On 10 May, 30 premises were raided by 115 law enforcement officers in Spain, France, Belgium and Poland. During the operation, 27 arrests were made, and over 1.5 tons of live glass eels, along with several tons of dead glass eels, were seized. The operation focussed on the premises of an international operating Basque trader and his business partners. The eel smuggling is very lucrative as eel farmers, particularly in Asia, are willing to pay up to 5000€ per kilogramme.
Europe, the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is managed by the European
Eel Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007) and trade is strictly regulated
under CITES (listed in Appendix II). Since 2010, the trade of European eels
across Europe’s outer borders is prohibited. The successful coordination
between Europol and national authorities played a vital role in this operation
which is significant for the protection of eel as poaching (illegal, unreported,
and unregulated fishing (IUU)) and illegal export to Asia are amongst the
key factors explaining the decline of this migratory fish species, besides
pollution, migration barriers and fishing.
After a temporary decrease
in eel smuggling during the COVID-19 pandemic – or at least a decrease in the
number of arrests - eel smuggling seems to regain importance.
During the investigation
it was found that up to 14 tonnes of glass eel fry and 31 tonnes of adult eel
were stolen from the legal circuit, which on the legal market would have
reached a value of more than 6.7 million euros.
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Pictures credits to Spanish Guardia Civil and to French Customs authorities