The Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) is calling for the EU to take action against the harmful and illegal trafficking of the European eel taking place. The European eel is already critically endangered, with fishing restrictions in place for the species, as well as a trade ban forbidding the eel to be exported outside of the EU. So far this season – despite these restrictions – about 110 million young European eels have been illegally trafficked to Asian countries, where the species is considered a great delicacy. Due to its huge popularity, the Japanese eel markets almost faced total collapse from overfishing.
The demand in countries such as Japan, China, and South Korea is so high that their eel farms cannot keep up with demand for ‘unagi kabayaki’, and has caused farmers to look elsewhere to keep up their supplies. To meet this demand, farmers require some hundred tons of eel to continue growing them in farm ponds, so they depend on illegal eel trafficking to repopulate their farms each season.
Recent evidence shows that while the EU may have implemented a trade ban on the European eel, EU Member States may not be properly or strictly enforcing the ban. France alone has declared that 140 million glass eels have been captured so far this season, but a market survey showed that only some 30 million have been sold in legitimate European markets, while the rest have vanished.
This lax policy when it comes to the European eel is putting the entire population in jeopardy. Andrew Kerr, Chairman of SEG stated: “The failure to control the selling and distribution of European Eel is threatening the whole recovery effort – for every eel legally eaten, 3 to 5 are being trafficked”.
SEG is now calling the EU out, demanding that it takes further action to prevent illegal trafficking and fishing of these eels. The overfishing and illegal trafficking of these else is not only putting the entire species population and future at risk, it is also gambling thousands of jobs held by those who legally fish, sell, and trade these eels.
The group is calling for the EU to take the protection of this species more seriously, upholding the bans and restrictions put in place to responsibly fish and protect the eels, as well as giving harsher punishments to those who re caught partaking in the multi- billion-dollar trade business. Where criminals in the USA are being imprisoned for their illegal trafficking, the EU has only handed out small fines for those caught.
SEG is stating that the even with restrictions and bans in place, the EU has faltered due to its failures to stop or lessen the trafficking, and demanding better actions in the future.