Vast international Eel smuggling network smashed down by French and Spanish investigators

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26 May

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.

In 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

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