Theft scandal at Japan’s top bonito port
Japan's Yaizu Fisheries Cooperative held a briefing on 6 December to explain the theft of frozen bonito – skipjack tuna – to local fishermen.
Yaizu, located near the entrance of Tokyo Bay, is the country’s top bonito port, recording nearly half of the country’s total landings.
In February, five people were arrested and charged with stealing about 4.4 metric tons of frozen bonito, worth JPY 1.04 million (USD 9,000, EUR 8,000), from Kyokuyo Suisan Co., a Yaizu-based fishing company, at the cooperative’s outer port fish market on 8 February.
Cooperative leaders said that a diversion of part of the catch en route to the auction was not due to sloppy record-keeping, but a systemic graft going back as far as 20 years. Kakujiro Nishikawa, head of the Yaizu Fisheries Cooperative, apologized to the members for the theft.
The fish was stolen in the process of bringing the bonito catch from vessels to auction. At the port, cargo nets of frozen bonito are lifted from fishing vessels by crane onto conveyor belts, and sorted to pallets by size and weight before being trucked to the market. While being transported by a shipping agency, some bonito were rerouted by the trucker, bypassing the auction and going directly to warehouses. A cooperative official received an under-the-table payoff from the processor receiving the fish.
As of October, seven people had been arrested by the Shizuoka prefectural police for their alleged involvement in the scheme, including three workers from the Yaizu Fishermen’s Cooperative; two former executives of Yaizu-based marine food-processing company Kaneshin JKS; and two workers at a shipping agent.
On 16 November, prosecutors indicted five of them on theft charges, including Kazuo Shindo, former president of Kaneshin JKS, and Minoru Yoshida, a worker at the cooperative. The remaining two suspects were released without indictment. Yaizu-based Kaneshin JKS, which specializes in processed bonito, posted an apology for the scandal on its website.
According to an internal investigation report Yaizu Fisheries Cooperative submitted to the prefecture, there have been at least 10 cases in the last 20 years in which the cooperative’s staff diverted bonito, usually receiving compensation. However, it said it was too difficult to determine the number of people involved, and the total amount of damage was not disclosed.
In addition to the theft case, the cooperative also revealed that when buyers complained about defective product, such as a lack of freshness, it would compensate them by giving them product for free from the fishery company’s next delivery – without informing the fishery company.
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