An Azzopardi Fisheries stand at Europe's largest seafood exhibition in Brussels was closed down for a short while by Greenpeace activists yesterday who raided the exhibition during a symbolic protest against tuna over-fishing.

Azzopardi Fisheries was one of five main tuna exporters targeted by Greenpeace. The others who had their stands blocked with fishing nets were Dongwon, Mitsubishi, Moon Marine and Ricardo Fuentes.

Taking everyone by surprise, around a dozen environmental activists chained up the stands and unfurled a banner reading "Don't buy tuna. Time and tuna are running out."

The protest included a message relayed over the public address sound system at the expo stating "Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please. The Dongwon, Mitsubishi, Moon Marine, Azzopardi and Ricardo Fuentes stalls are now closed."

Contacted by The Times, Charles Azzopardi, owner of Azzopardi Fisheries said the Greenpeace action lost him a total of five hours of business and he is expecting the fair organisers to compensate him.

"Although they tried to stop us we resisted the protestors and didn't let them in," Mr. Azzopardi said, adding that the other four stands were hit much worse than his.

"Greenpeace have surpassed all limits," he exclaimed.

"All our business is legal and regular and we are not doing anything wrong. We do not even catch the fish ourselves and all the tuna we buy is certified," he added.

The Brussels Seafood Expo is the biggest in Europe in the fishing and seafood sector, attracting some 20,000 buyers and sellers from around 80 countries to the Belgian capital each year.

A spokesman for Greenpeace yesterday told The Times that the aim of their activity was to upset the business of these companies, which have a huge responsibility for tuna over-fishing.

He said that Azzopardi Fisheries of Malta has become one of the major suppliers of tuna to the Japanese markets and have good connections with the biggest tuna dealers in the world.

"We wanted to reiterate the message that with the way tuna over fishing is at the moment, we will not be able to avoid the collapse of stocks of tuna species, some of which are close to extinction."

Last year, EU member states breached their bluefin tuna quota of around 4,000 tonnes, with France being the main culprit. As a result, tuna fishing was halted for the rest of the year.

Although Maltese fishermen respected their quota last year, they are currently up in arms against the European Commission and the government following the introduction of new EU rules imposing independent observers on their boats as from this season.

Earlier this week the Commission warned Malta to observe the new rules or risk facing legal procedures.

Environmentalists warn that tuna could face extinction if fishing continues at current rates to feed a world-wide fad for Japanese food such as sushi.

But tuna fishing is an increasingly lucrative industry, particularly for developing economies that export to Japan, which consumes a quarter of the world's tuna.

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