Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

First genetic evidence of illegal trade in endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) from Europe to Asia

First genetic evidence of illegal trade in endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) from Europe to Asia

Authors: Stein F, Wong JCY, Sheng V, Law SWC., Schröder B, Baker DM
Publication: Conservation Genetic Resources

Eel farming in Asia relies on wild-caught juvenile ‘‘glass eels’’ of the genus Anguilla. When supplies of Japanese eels (Anguilla japonica) declined in the 1990s, Asian eel farming shifted to using European eels (Anguilla anguilla). The European eel is currently classified as ‘‘Critically Endangered’’, and export out of Europe has been suspended since December 2010. In early 2016, glass eels were seized at the Hong Kong International Airport and genetically identified using the COI barcode region. Samples matched A. anguilla with a similarity range of 99.39–99.85 %. To our knowledge, this is the first documented case of illegal trade of A. anguilla from Europe into Hong Kong using genetic evidence. Furthermore, multiple isolated incidents of eel seizures by customs indicate that Hong Kong is a major hub facilitating illegal trade in eels from Europe to Asia. We demonstrated that COI barcoding is a suitable tool in identifying illegally imported A. anguilla, which can support enforcement and prosecution as well as enable international cooperation between Europe and Asia.

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