European eel traffickers busted

Eel retrieved from an syndicate. Picture: Europol

Eel retrieved from an syndicate. Picture: Europol

Published Jul 4, 2023


The European Union's Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), the international joint operation "dealt yet another major blow to organised crime groups" linked to eel trafficking.

During "Operation LAKE," which spanned from October 2022 to June 2023, more than 250 individuals engaged in the illicit trading of eels were apprehended.

According to Europol, it established that the criminal network was responsible for the trafficking of more than 25 tonnes of live glass eels worth around €13 million (R265 million), with 8 tonnes of baby eels already on their way to Asia to be grown in fish farms and sold on.

Glass eel trafficking, sometimes known as elver trafficking, has become an extremely contentious issue in Europe.

Some cultures praise the snake-like fish for its attractive appearance and meat. However, there are concerns that the trade is both harmful to the environment and inhumane.

Glass eel trafficking techniques vary, but the practise often entails catching the immature fish during their journey from freshwater to the ocean. This process is extremely stressful for the eels, resulting in harm or death.

Transporting them across long distances, frequently in overcrowded settings, can worsen their health and welfare issues.

Several countries have imposed laws and limits on the trade of glass eels in order to safeguard and promote more humane practises.

Europol described the illegal purchasing and selling of protected species as "one of the most devastating crimes against wildlife worldwide" in its announcement of the latest operation.

The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) population has declined by 90% in recent years, according to Europol, and continued law enforcement efforts "partly responsible for preventing the species from being wiped out entirely."

Europol estimates that occurrences involving eel trafficking have decreased by 50% since 2016, the year after Operation LAKE was implemented.

These fish are being trafficked from Europe to Asia via numerous criminal networks. EU residents are primarily responsible for illegally catching juvenile eels in European seas, while those from Asian destination nations organise logistics and shipping.

Chinese, Malaysian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese individuals were among the 256 detained, according to Europol, with "two high-value targets" among them.

"These successes have significantly disrupted the multibillion-euro criminal networks involved in this multibillion-euro activity."

"Glass eel trafficking is one of the most significant and lucrative illegal trades of protected species worldwide, with illegal profits estimated to be up to €3 billion in peak years," it said.