Spanish authorities confiscated 16 tonnes of shellfish due to alleged illegal shellfish fishing.
The Guardia Civil reported that most of the mollusks came from Portugal. Four people were arrested while five other suspects as well as five companies were indicted for crimes against public health and forgery of documents.
Officials from the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) of the Civil Guard of Huelva dismantled the group involved in the alleged illegal harvest of shellfish. Inspections were carried out at various shipping and purification centers and at aquaculture facilities. The results included the closure of a facility and the discovery of a non-compliant treatment system.
Operation Cardiidae examines the illegal harvest of shellfish from live bivalve molluscs from other countries and the marketing to consumers in different regions of Spain and Europe.
Investigators believe the majority of the mollusks were caught in restricted or prohibited areas in Portugal and were sent to Spain with forged documents where they were sold after undergoing zero or incorrect purification, meaning they could present a risk to public health.
Other agencies involved in the operation included Europol, the Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR), the Spanish Agency for Food Security and Nutrition (AESAN); the Portuguese Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE) and the local fisheries and public health services.
In recent weeks, the GNR in Portugal has reported the seizure of 104 kilos of hulls in Gafanha da Nazaré, in the municipality of Ílhavo due to a lack of traceability.
Earlier in September, nine tonnes of hulls were confiscated in Olhão. It was found that several individuals caught them outside of legally established periods and without the proper permits.
In another incident, more than a ton of Japanese clams were seized in the town of Matosinhos. The checks revealed that they were from the Lisbon area and were transferred to Spain.
SEPRONA in Spain is the point of contact for the European food fraud network and it is not the first time that bivalves have been on the radar, with EU-level action in 2020 to examine their illegal trade.
A food-borne outbreak in Spain in 2018 triggered an investigation into the trade in bivalve molluscs. The outbreak was caused by contaminated clams suspected of having been harvested from unauthorized areas. Investigations have revealed that this is a widespread problem involving operators using similar models in other EU countries.
Since mid-2018, 39 notifications of non-compliance concerning bivalves have been reported in an EU system, mainly by Spain and Portugal. The action resulted in the seizure and removal of nearly 40 tonnes of clams. Eleven companies were inspected and 43 people were arrested.
Live bivalve molluscs were harvested either in areas closed by the authorities for hygienic reasons, or in prohibited areas. This was done by unregistered fishermen. The molluscs were stored and transported in poor sanitary conditions with a lack of traceability. Transport or registration documents have been forged or falsified. Illegally harvested shellfish were mixed with other bivalve shellfish fit for human consumption in purification and shipping centers.
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