Speaking at a press conference, representatives of enforcement agencies EUROPOL, the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and Spain’s Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) have stated that 15 million endangered eels have been seized and arrests are 50% up as they combat eel smuggling.
‘This is our flagship operation in terms of environmental crime. All the arrests mentioned are in Europe with the majority from Spain, France and Portugal,’ said Jose Antonio Alfaro Moreno of EUROPOL, commenting that 153 arrests have been made since the autumn.
‘The main actions have been taken by SEPRONA. They have led the way in Europe along with the Portuguese and French authorities. However, there are also five 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.’
He explained that 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 the DNA can be tracked. The development of this technology being used in monitoring the DNA of the eel has allowed the authorities 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,’ he said.
‘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 needs to stay one step ahead.’
Also on the panel at the press conference, held as part of the Sustainable Eel Group’s 10 Year Anniversary Event being held at the Natural History Museum yesterday and today were Ian Guildford, Investigative Support Officer from UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and Miguel Angel Pacheco from Spain’s Nature Protection Service SEPRONA.
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.
‘Trafficking of the European eel is the world’s great wildlife crime in both traded individuals and market value,’ said Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group.
‘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.’