THE Guardia Civil has uncovered an international network making millions every year out of bringing contaminated Japanese clams into Spain from Portugal.
Acting under the coordination of Europol, the Guardia’s Operation Txuspas led to the seizure of 38.5 tonnes of dodgy clams, €80,000 in cash, and the arrest or investigation into of 39 Spaniards and four Portuguese nationals.
Investigators also discovered a clandestine clam nursery, where the clams from Portugal were kept.
The Guardia’s SEPRONA Nature Protection Service first launched the investigation last year after 17 reported cases of food poisoning in diners who had eaten in various restaurants in Cantabria and Asturias.
It became clear there was an organised gang dedicated to illegally fishing for the clams in Portugal, which they then sold to Spanish hatcheries. They used two entry routes into Spain to get the clams to end destinations in Huelva and Cantabria.
After a quick purification treatment via the circulation of clean water, which the Guardia made clear was not sufficient for complete purification, the clams were put on the market through links with traders.
The investigations also revealed the individuals responsible for the hatcheries mixed the “intoxicated” clams with ones acquired legally and used false documents from Portuguese estuaries to make it difficult to trace their origin.
Although the companies under investigation concentrated their activities in Spain all the suspect shellfish came from the Portuguese coast, hence the investigators’ worked alongside the neighbouring country’s ASAE Food Safety Authority, which in October frustrated the criminal organisation’s attempt to get 2.5 tonnes of clams into Spain.
The Guardia revealed that most of the individuals who had collected the seized clams were Eastern Europeans with very little money. The main players and those responsible for transporting the catches were detained in Spain and Portugal.
Sales of the contaminated clams were detected in shops and restaurants specialising in seafood, who were not aware of the real origin.
Investigators estimate the organisation made annual profits of more than €9 million. They put the amount of illegal Japanese clams received by the 11 Spanish companies under investigation at in excess of 1,000 tonnes.