EU Food Fraud Network: Example of an EU coordinated case on illegal trade in European eels
Europe is experiencing an increase in illegal fishing and smuggling of glass eels (baby eels) to Asia. Because of climate change, pollution and overfishing, local eel stocks are insufficient to cover market demand in Asia. Imported European eels are bred in aquaculture establishments, mainly in China, processed into fillets and used to prepare traditional dishes or are sent back to the EU (or other countries) as processed food, but declared as another (non-CITES llisted) species, e.g. American eel.
European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and FLora (CITES) and cannot be fished or sold without holding a permit. Since these measures have been unsuccessful in protecting eels, the EU decided to impose a ban on their export. Despite that, criminal networks illegally transport tonnes of eels, putting the survival of the species at risk and classifying this act as a serious environmental crime.
The economic value along the illegal supply chain starts with illegal ‘catchers’ in Europe being paid from EUR 300/kg for live glass eels. Them smugglers who transport eels from Europe to China receive EUR 1,000/kg. At the end of the illegal supply chain, a kilogram of glads eels in Asia is worth approximately EUR 6,000.
When baby eels reach maturity, they are processed into fillets. Then, the potential worth of processed food products deriving from one kilo of baby eels equals approximately EUR 25,000. Considering that per year 100 tonnes of eels are estimated to be smuggled to China, the illegal trade in European eel is a highly lucrative business.
The complex nature of this crime requires close international police cooperation through joint investigations. The Commission launched an EU coordinated case on illegal trade in eels and provided the EU FFN and EUROPOL with key data and analysis to support the joint investigation. In 2019 only, six new food fraud requests concerning the detection of European eel in food products were sent through the system involving 19 Member States.