Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Global police operation tackles illicit trade in eel meat

Global police operation tackles illicit trade in eel meat

Original article from Interpol Working Group Newsletter/7 – January 2020

published on
with permission from Interpol and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

OPERATION EEL-ICIT TRADE. In April of 2019, The United States, Canada, U.K., Australia, and 14 member states of the European Union participated in a second iteration of the WCWG Intersessional Activity, Operation ‘Eel-Licit’ Trade “II”. During the operational period, imports of frozen eel meat from China were inspected and genetically sampled to determine species and compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Eel meat extraction for genetic species identification. Copyright: SEG/GFF

During the course of the operation, Canada conducted a market survey and, despite no legal nexus for importation into Canada, determined that nearly 50% of the unagi eel meat in Canadian markets to be European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a species threatened with extinction and subject to a zero quota in the European Union. Australia also determined 6 shipments to contain illegal European eel. In the United States, several imports with illegal, unreported European eel was discovered upon genetic analysis and many were further determined to be contaminated with the prohibited substance, ‘malachite green’.
During the course of the operation, the CITES Secretariat General (SG), Ivonne Higuero, visited the Port of Newark, New Jersey and participated in inspections during Operation ‘Eel-Licit’ Trade II. During her visit, SG Higuero was briefed on the issue of illegal trade in Anguilla species and observed the seizure of a large consignment of illegal CITES eel meat, held at a perishable freezer storage facility. In the U.S., authorities interdicted several shipments containing illegal and undeclared CITES European eel. Authorities also interdicted shipments which contained covertly marked, illegal product that was refused and re-exported during the August 2018 operation, and smuggled back into the United States utilizing different company names, addresses and container numbers. The operation proved successful in interdicting significant illegal trade in CITES species and in coordinating international cooperation to combat the illegal trade, including with China. As a direct result of the operations, at least one investigation has been initiated by Chinese authorities and one container of re-exported eel-meat was seized in Hong Kong.
In total, the 2018 and 2019 operations documented the illegal trade in approximately 596,720 CITES specimens (filets) and the initiation of at least 2 criminal smuggling investigations in the United States in collaboration with Chinese authorities.

Florian Stein, Director of Scientific Operations (SEG): “European eel and 15 other freshwater eel species (Anguilla) around the globe are in bad state, due to unsustainable exploitation and other causes. These stocks urgently require adequate, international protection, including a stop on illegal trafficking. The global wildlife crime of illegal trade in freshwater eels needs to be tackled at all levels of the criminal supply chain. This includes policing and prosecution of illegal glass eel sourcing and export to Asia, as well as tackling the illegal supply of European eel meat from Asia to markets around the globe. We are very pleased to see that control of eel meat intensifies. This increases the chance that violations against CITES regulations and EU law can be stopped.