An international network of trafficking of glass eels, eel fry sold at gold prices in Asia on the black market, has been dismantled in France, Spain, Belgium and Poland, investigators said Thursday. 27 traffickers were arrested. The European raid, led in particular by the French gendarmerie and the Spanish Guardia Civil, led to the arrest of four sponsors in France and the seizure of 1.5 tons of live eels, an endangered species that will be released into the wild.

According to investigators, the trafficking was "the work of an organized gang (using) the French-Spanish border to try to conceal its criminal activities with Asia", with ramifications in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the Spanish Basque Country and Galicia. A clandestine breeding ground was discovered in France with smuggled glass eels and equipment to store and re-oxygenate these endangered animals. In Spain, the Guardia Civil seized several tonnes of frozen consignments of eels, without data of origin or health controls, unfit for consumption.

#OperacionesGC |➡️Detenidas 27 personas entre España y Francia en una macrooperación contra el tráfico ilegal de angulas.

Se tiene prevista su liberación en el medio natural, para preservar su supervivencia.@Gendarmerie Coordina @Europol y #OLAF

— Guardia Civil (@guardiacivil) May 11, 2023

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Clandestine breeding grounds in the Paris region and Belgium

The gendarmerie estimates at nearly four tons the quantity of glass eels fraudulently exported between 2021 and 2023, for an estimated profit of 1.18 million euros. The Guardia Civil, for its part, reports a quantity of up to 14 tons of glass eels and 31 tons of adult eels removed from the legal circuit, for a value of 6.7 million euros. Some 115 officers were mobilized in France within the gendarmerie (Oclaesp and research sections of Bordeaux and Pau), the police, the Service des enquêtes judiciaires des finances (SEJF), the French Office for Biodiversity and the National Brigade for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Investigations.

The investigations, launched in 2021, revealed the involvement of fish merchants, commercial managers and fishermen, who took this regulated species out of quota. The investigation, conducted jointly by the Specialized Interregional Jurisdiction (JIRS) of the Bordeaux Public Prosecutor's Office and the San Sebastián Court in Spain, uncovered illegal export channels, via Asian intermediaries, through travelers using European airports. Clandestine breeding grounds were set up in the Paris region and Antwerp, Belgium.

Large seizure in Poland

Investigations were also carried out at a restocking company in Poland, suspected of being a "front company" for smuggling to Asia. Some 200,000 euros in cash were seized, as well as 900,000 euros of various goods, including glass eels and vehicles, said the French investigation services. The Guardia Civil reported more than two million euros of seized property.

The annual value of illegal trafficking in glass eels, which have been threatened with extinction and banned from being exported outside the European Union since 2010, is estimated at three billion euros. Elvers, also called pibals in the Southwest, are traded between 700 and 900 euros per kilo in France, where fishing is highly regulated, and up to 5,000 euros in Asia. The smuggling of the European eel known as "Anguilla anguilla" is one of the causes of the 75% decline in its population in thirty years. The live eels seized during this operation are currently in an aquaculture farm in Navarra (Spain) and "their release into the wild is programmed to preserve their survival," says the Guardia Civil.

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