Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

First conviction in Spain for elver smugglers

First conviction in Spain for elver smugglers

The first conviction for trafficking this juvenile to Asia imposes 1.5 million fine and six years in prison

Original article by Manuel Planelles published ElPais
The first major operation carried out in Spain against the smuggling of European eels – the fry of the eel, a species that is endangered and whose export outside the European Union is prohibited since 2010 – has resulted in fines of more than 1 . 5 million euros for the five involved in this case and three of their companies. In addition, these five people have been sentenced in total to more than six years in prison for the crimes of smuggling of endangered species in a tentative and false public document for trying to transport between 2011 and 2012 live eels to Asia.
In January 2011, when this framework tried for the first time to remove the eels, the traffic of this species was something exotic of which there were hardly any references . Now, half of the EU countries are involved in the fight against this profitable contraband that decimates the populations of Anguilla anguilla. And the war against this illicit trafficking has become an “icon” of the fight against organized crime in Europe. “It’s European ivory,” sums up Lieutenant José Antonio Alfaro, a Europol environmental crime specialist who is in charge of coordinating the eel trafficking. In China, which absorbs the bulk of this illicit market, the European eel is highly valued, and the native eel is in decline.

Major Police Operations Against Glass Eel Trafficking

“Only last year there were more than 100 detainees in Europe for this contraband,” says Alfaro. And so far in 2019 there have been seizures in Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria … Last year about eight tons of eels were intercepted when they were going to be sent (alive) to Asia, where they were then fed They grow and become the prized eel. The specialized organizations calculate that this is only the tip of the iceberg and estimate that each year (mainly) 100 tons of this finger come to China to be fattened.
But when the Seprona – the nature protection service of the Civil Guard – developed that first operation eight years ago, which was called Suculenta, there was no awareness of the problem. Nor were the complex methods used nowadays used, such as hiding the fry in suitcases or, even, equipping large trucks to take the eels caught in Spain from tapadillo through Greece to circumvent the customs controls .
The network now condemned tried between 2011 and 2012 to remove 724.38 kilos of eels from Spain, whose cost reached almost 580,000 euros, according to the sentence handed down by the Criminal Court 11 of Madrid on May 31st, which EL agreed to. The letter highlights the “great export profitability” of this fry and that those already condemned, “aware of the drastic commercial restriction and the prohibition of extra-community exports,” decided to breach “international and community legislation”.
The method was simple: export the eels by falsifying the documentation. They tried to make the cargoes pass through another type of unprotected eel (like Anguilla rostrata), by California red worms and by múgil. But they were hunted at customs. And nine years later they have been condemned. The penalty – after years of unjustified delays – is firm as the defences have reached an agreement in accordance with the Prosecutor’s Office.


In principle, none of the accused will enter prison because the individual sentences do not exceed two years. But two of them could enter the prison in the future because they have been arrested later in two other operations of the Civil Guard against the same contraband. These are Delfín García and Juan Enrique Bonet, the latter one of the owners of Mariscos Roset, a well-known Catalan company that was at the centre of the operation carried out in 2017.
During this decade, Seprona has carried out five major operations against the trade in eels that have resulted in more than eight tons of this species seized since 2011. “Spain, through the Seprona, is a leader within Europol and is very committed to stopping These crimes, “says Andrew Kerr, president of the Sustainable Eels Group.
Kerr highlights the enormous impact of smuggling for this species. It maintains that illegal trafficking affects 25% of the European eel population, which means that 100 tonnes of fingerling arrive annually in Asia. “And most of them are captured in the Bay of Biscay,” he adds.
This specialist recalls that the European eel is included in Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and that in 2010 it was decided to prohibit exports outside Europe. “In addition, the European eel is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature),” adds Kerr.
The decision to veto exports outside the EU in 2010 was made due to the decline of the species, recalls Lieutenant Alfaro. From the scientific field, it was alerted of the negative impacts caused by pollution, the large dams in the rivers that prevent the transit of different fish species and overfishing. According to Kerr, there is evidence that the eel, thanks to the approved European standards, has stopped its “steep decline” of the last 30 years. “Now we see a small increase in the numbers,” he says. But this specialist warns that it is necessary to stop smuggling if you want to complete the recovery of this precious species.