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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 31, 2001 – Sun)---Counterfeit fish is basically economic fraud. So much so that if authorities fail to take swift actions or put safe legislations, these exported fish are set to destroy Fiji’s image overseas, something this country really cannot afford at this time.

In Fiji’s case the fish is tuna and the fraud is aimed at the lucrative niche sashimi markets in Europe, the United States and Japan. Tuna rakes in nearly F$ 70 million (US$ 30, 205,000) annually.

It is counterfeit in the sense that rejected or low-grade tuna is treated with poisonous carbon monoxide gas to enhance its color.

Not only will it affect Fiji’s reputation but also the physical health of those that will get to eat these "plastic fish." In the case of tuna loins the monetary value jumps by 100 percent once the color is enhanced, which fraudulently gives a fresh meat color.

This process is banned in most countries, including Australia and New Zealand, but there are underworld markets that are willing to entertain the procedure and sources have revealed that contacts have been made with overseas market.

Most fishing companies contacted knew of such a process but denied making moves towards setting up a factory. But closer investigations found a factory that is ready to market the "plastic fish."

A paper titled "Disclosure Information. Relating to Processes for Color Enhancement and Preservation of Fish" is now circulating among those in the fishing industries to gather support for "counterfeit fish."

The paper outlines that their "trade secret described herein relates to processes and apparatus for color enhancement and preservation of fish." The processes in the paper include "improving the color of tuna and other seafood irreversibly by exposure to 100 percent carbon monoxide."

With such recommendations and advise Fiji’s fragile tuna industry stands to lose its reputation in the world market as an exporter of high quality fish, if the carbon-monoxide treated fish is allowed to fraud its way into the world market, marked as "an export from Fiji."

The Ministry of Health’s food technologist, Waisale Delai, said that even though no specific mention of carbon monoxide is in any legislation "the Ministry will not allow the use of poisonous gas to preserve or treat any food."

Investigations carried out by the SUN for nearly two months have identified the location of the proposed factory, in an industrial zone outside Suva.

After weeks of unreturned phone calls and unanswered email we decided to drop into the office without an appointment.

To our disappointment we were told to wait since "the boss is on the phone." We sort of had a feeling that we were not welcome because this was the usual excuse given to us on the phone.

[Tomorrow: It Gets Messy: Poisonous Carbon Monoxide To Enhance Tuna Freshness]

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

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