Authorities in several European countries have broken up a criminal group involved in poaching fish in contaminated waters, tax evasion and money laundering, according to a press release by the European Judicial Cooperation Unit, Eurojust.
Contaminated fish was stored and transported in several EU countries under improper and unhygienic conditions and then sold to Romanian companies.
Thirteen people were arrested during searches carried out in Romania, Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Hungary, 11 boats were confiscated, and 30 tonnes contaminated fish have been seized. Eurojust coordinated the joint action by facilitating real-time information exchange between the agencies involved.
Operation Glanis – named for the scientific name of the catfish, silurus glanis – began in the Spanish provinces of Huesca and Zaragoza, where the members of the criminal group fished at night using illegal methods such as cast nets or electric currents.
It is prohibited to eat catfish procured from Spanish waters as the invasive species is considered unfit for human consumption.
The captures were then transferred in conventional vans unsuited for the transport of fish, to industrial warehouses, where they were weighed, gutted, cleaned and packaged without any type of sanitary control, according to a statement by the Spanish National Police.
“It should be noted the absolute disregard for the health of consumers and the possible adverse effects that the product could cause when consumed in such a poor state of health,” the Police said in a statement, adding that the fish were cleaned with bleach to mask the the smell of rot that had set in.
The contaminated fish were sold to Romanian companies, which were especially set up as ‘ghost’ fish marketing companies to serve the OCG’s criminal activities, according to Eurojust.
“Through those companies, the OCG members obtained fishing permits and VAT codes… but did not acquire the mandatory sanitary authorisations for intra-Community trade of products of animal origin. They used fake invoices and other falsified documents to resell the fish in Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Romania, reaping substantial illicit profits, including by evading taxes and laundering money.”
It is estimated by the Spanish authorities that the illegal practice is worth more than 100,000 euros a year.
Those arrested are accused of crimes against public health, crimes against the protection of flora and fauna and belonging to a criminal organisation.