18th May 2024
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Guardia Civil seize 18 tonnes of endangered eels headed for Asia

Spain’s Guardia Civil police have seized 18 tonnes of eels and baby eels destined for Asia in a huge operation targeting smugglers of the critically endangered creatures. A further 6 tonnes were seized by other police across Europe.

Officers arrested 256 suspected smugglers as part of the ‘historic’ operation coordinated by the EU’s police agency Europol that involved 32 EU countries including France and Portugal, Spain’s Guardia Civil police force said in a statement.

The bulk of the eels, 18 tonnes, were seized in Spain where police smashed three separate organised crime groups involved in the trade of the creatures with the arrest of 30 people, the statement added.

‘Police identified shell companies created expressly to export eels to Asia, which disguised the exports among other refrigerated products,’ the statement said.

The Guardia Civil released nearly two tonnes of baby eels, and over a tonne of eels, which were confiscated alive as part of the operation back into the wild.

The rest of the eels that were found – prized as a delicacy in Spain and parts of Asia – had not been subject to any food safety checks.

Baby eels can fetch up to €9,000 per kg on the black market, the statement said.

Smugglers often put the tiny fish in plastic bags and hide them in luggage where they can survive up to 42 hours, it added.

Stocks of the European eel have plummeted 90% in three decades as development has encroached on the wetlands and dammed the rivers it needs to grow and feed in.

Experts fear criminal gangs who are smuggling the lucrative fish are pushing it towards extinction.

European eels have been protected since 2009 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

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