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Sea horses and sea cucumbers: the illegal China Export starts off by the seas of Taranto
VeraLeaks came into possession of some photos attesting an actual illegal market that finds its clients on WeChat, the popular messaging app, as shown below.
In the online chat the suppliers get in touch with their clients and refer to them the username of the account to be contacted for the sales. In the Little Sea (Mar Piccolo) and in the Big Sea (Mar Grande) of Taranto, the sea cucumbers and the sea horses are fished and sent to the Chinese market: it is a real eco-crime as the whole ecosystem of the sea is damaged.
In the pictures it is possible to notice the accurate packaging of the product: refined gifts where the geographic origin is indicated on the label to attest quality and prestige, just like in a real certified supply chain. It is possible to read in Chinese ideograms not only the name of the products but also: “Italy, Mediterranean”.
The Chinese Export supply chain uses local fishermen, from Taranto, who sell the product to an intermediary: this person takes the product to his own Chinese business activity where it is packaged and sent to the East. WeChat has very good systems for the encryption of messages and that is where the intermediaries handle their businesses. The level of profits is very high: each local fisherman gets 80 euros cents per each kilo of sea cucumbers fished; those who clean the product receive 50 euros per day and then sell it for 7 euros per kilo to the shipping agent who puts it on the Chinese market for 200-600 dollars per kilo. These are eco-crimes worth millions of dollars that destroy the balance of our sea (which is already compromised).
Apparently, the Chinese Export, buying different species from our sea, is still not having any issue after several Police operations (Guardia di Finanza, Polizia and Guardia Costiera) to contrast this type of market. Meanwhile, in the last few years, the Public Prosecutor filed charges against many people involved and seized tons of fished product.
The Chinese clients can count on the organization of their compatriots who are well-rooted in the area of Taranto and who are currently dealing illegally the trade of sea horses and sea cucumbers. These species are very much requested by the Asian food sector: the sea cucumbers (echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea) are used for food preparation, medical use and in the cosmetics. The sea horses are used in the production of a specific liquor: they are put inside a bottle to macerate in the alcohol.
The first law forbidding the fishing of the sea horses (until the 31st December 2019) is effective from the 27th February 2018 (Download the file). Before this date, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Taranto, thanks to the work of PM Mariano Buccoliero, could operate using a study commissioned by the CNR (Research National Council): this report attests the vital relevance of the sea cucumbers for the ecosystem of the sea as this mollusk has a high depurative capacity in the waters with a high bacterial load.