Seizure of illegally traded baby eels. (Photo: Guardia Civil)
Another blow directed to illegal eel trade
Monday, June 26, 2017, 23:40 (GMT + 9)
The 2016-17 campaign of an international operation against illegal eel trafficking, led by the Civil Guard’s Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA), which involved Europol, Eurojust and several European countries, ended with 48 detained people and 4,000 kilos of intervened baby eels.
Out of these detentions, 30 took place in Spain, and out of the total intervened number of eel fry, half were seized in this country.
The researchers estimate that in the last eight months more than 10 tonnes of eels would have been illegally exported to China with a profit of some EUR 10 million.
European eel (Anguilla anguilla) stocks have experienced a dramatic decline, around 90 per cent since 1980. The main causes would be the loss of their natural habitats and illegal fishing. To ensure the survival of the species, the European Union determined its inclusion in Appendix II of the CITES Convention and set a ban on its trade outside the European territory.
In 2015, Europol (the European Police Agency) coordinated an operation with the participation of numerous EU countries to combat eel illegal trafficking and in particular against organized criminal groups that illegally export the species between Europe and Asia.
Under the umbrella of Operation Lake, in which Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece participated, each country has developed its own research. In the case of Spain, the SEPRONA conducted Operation Abaia, considered the most important of the last years. The investigation carried out by its Central Operative Unit of the Environment (UCOMA) resulted in the arrest of 30 people and the intervention of more than 2,000 kilos of baby eels.
The detainees were part of a criminal network that from Spain acquired the eels (legally and illegally) in different countries and then, backed by fake documentation, was moved to Greece in specially equipped trucks. Once in that country, it was illegally exported to Hong Kong for further commercialization in China.
In addition to Operation Abaia, the Civil Guard has made other interventions within the framework of the operation coordinated by Europol, such as the complaint at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport of two Chinese citizens carrying 31.2 and 56 kilos of live baby eels in their luggage.
SEPRONA also reported that in the 'Baetis' operation in Seville, four people were investigated by unauthorized fishing and prohibited means while at the airport in Bilbao a shipment of 490 kg of baby eels was found in the United Kingdom, which ended with the arrest of a person in that country and the detention of a person in Castropol (Asturias) carrying 80 kg of eels without any documentation.
Following the success of this international operation, countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden are expected to join the 2017-2018 campaign.