Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

EUROPOL: 15 million endangered eels have been seized in world’s greatest wildlife crime

EUROPOL announce 15 million endangered eels have been seized in world’s greatest, yet least known, wildlife crime

  • Europol set out their ‘flagship operation’ to counter global criminal networks
  • 50% increase in arrests with 153 people sanctioned across the EU since last autumn
  • With approx. 350m glass eels trafficked annually worth €3 billion every year there are still millions not being caught
London, 27 June 2019 – A world exclusive press conference has been held today with EUROPOL, UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and Spain’s Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) on the world’s greatest, yet least know, wildlife crime, the trafficking of the endangered European eel. This is part of the Sustainable Eel Group’s 10 Year Anniversary Event being held at the Natural History Museum today and tomorrow.
The enforcers announced that 15 million endangered European eels have been seized, with 153 arrests across the EU. This is a 50 percent increase in arrests for this illegal wildlife crime since last autumn.
Jose Antonio Alfaro Moreno from EUROPOL saidThis is our flagship operation in terms of environmental crime. All the arrests mentioned are in Europe with the majority from Spain, France and Portugal. The main actions have been taken from SEPRONA, they have led the way in Europe along with the Portuguese and French authorities. However, there are also 5 ongoing criminal cases in the USA carried out by the US Fish and Wildlife Service involving the illegal import of eel meat coming from Asia containing DNA of the European Eel.  Glass eels are trafficked out of the EU, put into eel farms in Asia and then sent back to the US, Canada and the EU which is how we can track the DNA. The development of this technology being used in monitoring the DNA of the eel has allowed us to prove that the European eel is coming from Asia. We have also collaborated with the EU Enforcement Group and the EU Food Fraud Network.
The people arrested in Europe are poachers, mules and members from other criminal networks. We have focused not just looking at trafficking glass eels as a single issue, but the wider criminal networks. Year after year, more countries are joining our actions. For example, this year we are carrying out more work in Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Macedonia. For the next season, we want to follow the line of the inquiry into eel meat production in Asia and DNA traces. With this, we expect more countries to get involved with high ambition for action. The criminal groups learn and develop their methods, so Europol need to stay one step ahead.
Also on the panel were Ian Guildford, Investigative Support Officer from UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and Miguel Angel Pacheco from Spain’s Nature Protection ServiceSEPRONA.
The number of eels reaching Europe has declined by 90% since the 1970s. The species is now classified as critically endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The trafficking of European eels, however, is undermining species recovery and enforcement agencies are continually looking at ways to address the issue.
The export and import of European eel out of and into the European Union has been suspended since 2010. However, the scale of the illegal trade remains vast: according to Europol, 300 to 350 million European eels are illegal trafficked every year from Europe to Asia, accounting for almost one quarter of the total number of glass eels (juvenile eels) entering European waters every year. The illicit trade has been estimated to be worth approximately €3 billion every year.
Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group, commented: “Trafficking of the European eel is the world’s great wildlife crime in both traded individuals and market value. It affects 25% of the total stock of European Eel and is hampering the recovery of this precious species. It is therefore vital that we stop all smuggling because it undermines every single effort used to establish adequate protection from other human impacts.