Minister rejects allegations around tuna farming in wake of EC warning

NEWS 10.02.2022 15:42
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Source: Zeljko Lukunic/PIXSELL

Agriculture Minister, Marija Vuckovic, said on Thursday that the European Commission's call on Croatia "to ensure an effective monitoring, control and inspection of bluefin tuna farms" which was not clarified in the Commission's statement on Wednesday actually referred to audits from 2017 to 2019, and that Croatia had since significantly improved its legislation.

“Croatia has two months to prepare a response. We’ll see if the Commission will recognize all that we have done. I think we have done plenty,” Vuckovic told reporters in Sveti Djurdj in Varazdin County.

As part of this month’s infringements package, Croatia received a letter of formal notice after an audit and verification by the Commission “identified serious shortcomings in monitoring the transfer and caging operations of bluefin tuna,” state agency Hina reported.

“National authorities should ensure that data are cross-checked, accurate and validated, and should investigate potential non-compliance cases and take administrative or criminal measures against those responsible for infringing EU law,” the Commission said, adding that Croatia “has not taken the necessary steps to address these deficiencies,” the Commission’s report said, without clarifying further.

Croatia now has two months to respond to the letter and take the necessary measures, the Commission said. “In the absence of a satisfactory response, the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion,” the Commission said.

This seems to be related to reports first appearing in the Slobodna Dalmacija daily, in which fisheries inspector Marko Pupic-Bakrac said that “Croatian tuna farmers were being favored by being made to register tuna imported from Libya only after they exported it to Japan,” Hina said, citing Slobodna Dalmacija.

“Vuckovic is meddling in the work of the inspectorate, and telling us what to do, while documents on tuna imports in Croatia are being falsified,” he said.

“Meetings on that are held at the Agriculture Ministry, attended by a dozen ministry employees, and the minister, in agreement with farmers, tells inspectors how to act,” Pupic-Bakrac added. He also warned about suspicious activities in the unloading of forage fish intended for tuna farms.

Reporters asked Vuckovic to comment on Pupic-Bakrac’s allegations and his later comment following the European Commission notice, in which he called for Vuckovic’s resignation.

Vučkovic replied by saying that Pupic-Bakrac was “lying incredibly.”

“He claims that I regularly met with farmers and fisheries inspectors to instruct them on how to conduct fisheries inspections. He’s lying… I have never done it. Let him fine one inspector or one farmer who will back him up,” Vuckovic said.

She also said proceedings had been instigated against Pupic-Bakrac at the Civil Service Tribunal “for violating regulations” and that this “was not the first time.”

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