Spanish authorities have confiscated 16 tons of mollusks because of suspected illegal shellfish harvesting.
La Guardia Civil reported most of the mollusks came from Portugal. Four people have been arrested while another five suspects as well as five companies have been placed under investigation for crimes against public health and falsifying documents.
Officials from the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) of the Huelva Civil Guard dismantled the group involved in the alleged illegal harvesting of mollusks. Inspections were carried out at different dispatch and purification centers and aquaculture facilities. Results included the closure of a facility and finding a non-compliant treatment system.
Operation Cardiidae is looking at the illegal shellfish harvesting of live bivalve mollusks from other countries and commercialization to the consumer in different parts of Spain and Europe.
Investigators believe the majority of the mollusks were captured in restricted or prohibited zones in Portugal and were sent to Spain with falsified documentation where they were sold after undergoing no or incorrect purification, meaning they could pose a risk to public health.
Other agencies involved in the operation included Europol, the Portuguese National Republican Guard (GNR), the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN); the Economic and Food Safety Authority in Portugal (ASAE) and local fishery and public health departments.
In recent weeks, the GNR in Portugal has reported the seizure of 104 kilos of cockles in Gafanha da Nazaré, in the municipality of Ílhavo because of a lack of traceability.
Earlier in September, nine tons of cockles were confiscated in Olhão. Several individuals were found to be catching them outside the legally established periods and without the correct licenses.
In another incident, more than a ton of Japanese clams were seized in the city of Matosinhos. Checks found they came from the Lisbon area and were being taken to Spain.
SEPRONA in Spain is the contact point of the European Food Fraud Network and it is not the first time bivalves have been on the radar, with action at the EU level in 2020 looking at their illegal trade.
A foodborne outbreak in 2018 in Spain prompted an investigation into the trade of bivalve mollusks. The outbreak was caused by contaminated clams suspected to have been harvested in non-authorized areas. Investigations found it was a widespread issue involving operators using similar patterns in other EU countries.
Since mid-2018, 39 non-compliance notifications for bivalves were reported in an EU system, mainly by Spain and Portugal. Action resulted in the seizure and withdrawal of almost 40 tons of clams. Eleven companies were inspected and 43 people were arrested.
Live bivalve mollusks were harvested either in areas closed by authorities for hygienic reasons or from prohibited places. This was done by non-registered harvesters. Mollusks were stored and transported under poor sanitary conditions with a lack of traceability. Transport or registration documents were counterfeited or falsified. Illegally harvested shellfish was mixed with other bivalve mollusks fit for human consumption in purification and dispatch centers.
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