Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

EU submits a list of 49 eel seizures to CITES

Original language: English

SC69 Doc. 47.2


Sixty-ninth meeting of the Standing Committee Geneva (Switzerland), 27 November -1 December 2017

Species specific matters
Eels (Anguilla spp.)

  1. This document has been submitted by the European Union (EU).*
  2. The European Eel Anguilla anguilla was listed in CITES Appendix II at CoP14 in 2007 and the listing came into force in March 2009. Due to its depleted status within Europe, the EU has been unable to make a positive non-detriment finding for the species since December 2010. Currently export and import of this species from and into the EU is not permitted, and all EU Member States have published a zero export quota for European Eel since 2011. To improve the conservation status of the species, the EU adopted in 2007 a domestic legislation1 on eel conservation, establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European Eel. In accordance with the obligations set out in this Regulation, Member States of the EU have developed species management plans at national level, which include management measures (e.g. reduction in fisheries, improving river continuity, reducing pollution).
  3. Since the introduction of the EU trade suspension for A. Anguilla, illegal export of live juvenile eels (glass eels) from the EU to third countries has substantially increased. The information available suggests that glass eels traded illegally from the EU are shipped to farming facilities in Asia, where they are kept until they reach their adult size and further re-exported to their final market, sometimes mixed with other eel species. Peaks in illegal trade in A. anguilla usually take place during the fishing season for glass eels, which runs from October to Spring. The illegal trade in glass eels of A. anguilla is jeopardising efforts for the recovery of the species and undermining the implementation of the Convention. It should be noted that the legal and illegal international trade in other eel species has also increased in recent years2.
  4. Recalling that CITES Decision 17.189 directs the Standing Committee to “consider information relating to illegal trade in European eel at its 69th and 70th meetings and adopt recommendations as appropriate”, the present document provides an update on the latest trends in detected cases of illegal trade in European Eel.
  5. Table 1 provides a non-exhaustive summary of A. anguilla seizure information for 2013-2017 collated from a variety of sources – CITES Biennial Reports, EU Member State seizures reports, EU-TWIX, Europol, the Sustainable Eel Group and media reports. These include internal (illegally fished eels) and external seizures (on both import and export) and provide further evidence that illegal trade, in particular exports of A. anguilla glass eels, has continued in recent years.
  6. The available seizure information suggests a rampant illegal trade in the species, with shifting and complex (i.e. indirect) trade routes and modes of shipment to avoid detection. Recent investigations in the EU point to the involvement of organized criminal networks in this illegal trade, which reportedly use falsified documents and launder the large profits generated through their illegal operations. According to the latest investigations in 2017, 10 tonnes of European Eel are believed to have been smuggled in the 2016-2017 fishing season from the EU to China, with a profit estimated at EUR 10 million. Evidence from recent enforcement operations point to the involvement of actors in the source, transit and destination countries.
  7. Addressing illegal trade in A. anguilla is a priority for enforcement agencies from the EU Member States. Together with the European Union’s law enforcement agency (Europol), they have strengthened their efforts against eel trafficking and carried out joint operations to dismantle the criminal networks organising it. Operational activities during the fishing season 2016-2017 have seen 48 persons arrested and 4 000 kg of glass eels seized, amounting to a total value of approximately EUR 4 million3. In view of the transnational nature of eel trafficking, international enforcement cooperation needs to be increased to tackle this illegal trade effectively, especially through sharing of intelligence via appropriate channels, carrying out joint enforcement operations and the identification and prosecution of the leaders of the criminal networks driving this trade in demand countries.