Illegal Fishing in Croatia: Police Swoop for Giant Tuna on Hvar
Ten policemen dramatically board the Jadrolinija catamaran to Jelsa and briefly detain the owner of top restaurant Me and Mrs Jones. A curious tuna tale.
Local residents in the small fishing town of Jelsa on the island of Hvar experienced an unusual flurry of activity this week, as about 10 marine policemen boarded the incoming daily catamaran from the mainland, according to a report in 24 Sata on April 28, 2011.
Police Board Daily Ferry to Jelsa
Having waited for arriving passengers to descend, the police waited to see who would enter the boat to lay claim to the object that was the reason for their presence on Hvar’s third town on the northern coast – a giant fresh tuna, weighing 65 kg.
At first glance, it would appear that perhaps the police had got their man and caught a restauranteur red-handed buying illegal tuna, as Josipa Skarpa, owner of the town’s most fashionable restaurant, Me and Mrs Jones, entered the boat, closely followed by the small police force.
On paper, it seemed an open and shut case – the licensing of tuna fishing is strictly controlled in Croatia, with licences costing about $250 a month. Each tuna fished legally within quota comes with its own number and paperwork, and the police information was that this tuna had neither.
Tuna Transportation: Vacuum Packs and Licences
They were correct, but this was not the only thing that was fishy about this particular tuna, the first that Me and Mrs Jones had agreed to buy whole. All previous tuna that had been shipped to the restaurant by the state ferry company, Jadrolinija, had arrived from the supplier vaccum-packed in ice and with appropriate licence, documentation and invoice. Not only was the paperwork missing, but the fish itself was only half-immersed in ice. Skarpa was on the point of calling the supplier to reject the tuna when the police pounced.
The Curious Diversion from Bol to Split
In an interview on April 29 with the crew of Silba, a more curious detail emerged, making things fishier still, especially for the staff on the catamaran, as they divulged that the tuna had been on the boat all day, and had started its journey only 25 minutes from Jelsa, at the port of Bol, on the neighbouring island of Brac, at 6:40 a.m., before heading in the opposite direction, then returning to Bol, before arriving in Jelsa at 5:50 p.m.
The lengthy Split diversion raises questions, and the obvious conclusion would be that the supplier had an arrangement with a client in Split who decided against the purchase at the last minute, possibly as a result of a tip-off that the police were monitoring the tuna.
More curious still was the decision of Me and Mrs Jones to take delivery of a full 65 kg of tuna so early in the season before a significant number of tourists had arrived. In an interview, Skarpa explained that her regular tuna supplier, with whom she has had a good relationship (with correct licences, documentation and invoices) since opening in an idyllic waterfront location in 2009, called the previous day offering her a whole tuna.
She declined, saying that the upfront payment was one of the issues. At around 2:00 p.m. on April 26, the supplier called again, pressing her to take the tuna, and offering to defer payment until some time in the future. She agreed to take the fish and, undeterred by the police boat in the harbour (a very rare occurrence in Jelsa, and a large warning sign for a restauranteur dealing in illegal fish), she entered the Silba expecting to find a vacuum packed tuna on ice with documentation, addressed to the restaurant as usual.
She found none of the above and, before she even had a chance to lay claim to the ‘contraband’, the police detained her, and she has been threatened with a potentially crippling fine of up to 300,000 kuna ($60,319).
“If someone had called me to warn me that the police were there, I would still have come, as I had done nothing wrong, and went to collect the tuna, as normal," she said. "Only when I arrived did I see there were problems with it. I didn’t even touch it before the police arrived.”
Tuna Returned to the Sea
The investigating judge ordered that the fish, although dead, be thrown back into the Adriatic. This was not done in full view of local residents in Jelsa harbour, but further out to sea in the Hvar Channel, according to 24 Sata, although there is some speculation in the paper’s comments section, that perhaps the tuna’s final resting place was elsewhere.
Me and Mrs Jones is a locally-owned restaurant, about to enter its third season. It burst onto the scene in 2009, offering the widest selection of dishes in town, as well as heightened levels of service in a stunning location on the waterfront.
Me and Mrs Jones in Top 40 Restaurants in Dalmatia
Having recently moved across the harbour to bigger premises at Napoleon, the restaurant is hoping for continued expansion in the 2011 to cement its reputation as one of the best eateries on the Dalmatian coast. The new location is ideal for yachties who can moor up directly outside the hotel and enjoy an excellent dining experience metres from their boat. The restaurant featured in the list of Top 40 restaurants in Dalmatia, published this week.
In addition to Dalmatian fare, the restaurant offers a more exotic selection of snails, frogs, meat fondue, squid stuffed with prawns and, until very recently, an excellent fresh tuna steak.