Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Guardia Civil arrests 16 persons from 4 criminal groups, seizing about 1.2 Million glass eels

21 October 2019. Within the framework of Operation FAME, the Spanish Guardia Civil has arrested and investigated 16 persons belonging to four organised groups involved in the illegal trafficking in European eel. The groups operated in the Spanish provinces of Guipúzcoa, Madrid and Asturias, but eels also originated from France.

One Asturias-based organised groups mixed undeclared French glass eels with legally and illegally captured eels from Asturias and the Basque Country, sending them to Portugal by taxi. Subsequently, they were illegally exported by air in suitcases, checked in by “mules” of Asian origin.
The Madrid-based organisation preferred to ship larger quantities of glass eel as air cargo, declaring them as other types of fish, seafood or even beef. The investigations revealed that they had thought of concealing them in beer barrels.
The 400 kg of glass eel seized during the operation were reintroduced in the rivers Bidasoa and Orio, in cooperation with environmental agents of the Regional Governments of Navarra and Guipúzcoa, respectively.
Following the assessment report from the Administrative Authority CITES and taking into account that the 2018-2019 seasonal price in the Asian market was 1 500 €/kg, the seized glass eel could be worth 600 000 €. Moreover, according to the estimates by the Guardia Civil, the four criminal organisations under investigation may have obtained annual profits amounting over 6 million €.
We should also highlight that this operation took place when the next fishing season for glass eel had already started.

Fighting the illegal trade in European eel

A wide range of activities has been conducted in every coastal Autonomous Region, tackling possible illicit practices linked to eels. In total, EUROPOL-coordinated Operation Lake (lead by Spain since 2016) resulted in 448 actions, 154 arrests and the seizures of 5 789 kilograms of glass eels (total for Europe) between October 2018 and April 2019.
In May 2019, the first sentence against this type of illegal trafficking was published: 5 persons and 3 companies were found guilty, resulting in 23 month imprisonment and fines amounting to 1.5 million €.
In addition, Seprona is now also taking part in the global INTERPOL initiative Eel-licit, aiming to detect the illegal import of European eel meat from Asia.

The challenge for European eel

Since the beginning of the 21st century, different scientific studies have shown a dramatic drop in the European eel stock. Consequently, the EU proposed the listing of European eel in CITES Appendix II. In addition, the trade across the EU‘s outer borders is prohibited since
This operation is one of the many targeted activities aimed at reducing crimes against wildlife and the destruction of their natural habitat covered by the Project LIFE+ Nature Guardians – Minimize the incidence of environmental crimes, funded by the European Union, and the Spanish Action Plan against illegal trafficking and international poaching in wildlife species (Plan TIFIES).
The investigations were coordinated by EUROPOL and carried out by Guardia Civil officers belonging to the Central Operational Unit for environmental Issues (UCOMA) of SEPRONA. The operations have been coordinated with the ASAE (Portugal) and OCLAESP (France).

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