Glass Eel trafficking is on the rise across Europe in what animal rights activists are calling the “largest wildlife crime on Earth.”
Destined for Japanese and Chinese dinner tables, the number of the endangered eel species has fallen by 90 percent over the last thirty years, primarily due to infrastructure and development of Europe’s wetlands as well as uncontrolled illegal fishing.
Poachers are pushing the species to its limits, Kerr said, which, despite legislation from international governments across the region have not triggered action by several international governments to implement legislation.
Andrew Kerr, the chairman of the conservation organization, Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), said, “Glass eels trafficking involves environmental crime, smuggling, document fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. It’s the biggest wildlife crime by value on Earth...It’s the most trafficked and traveled animal on the planet."We cannot legally export eels outside the EU, but the prices are different in Asia. There is a real Asian demand for eel,” he said.
Believed to bestow good luck as both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, Asia’s high demand for eels has only spurred illegal fishing and exports which manifested to nearly a quarter of a million tons imported eels in China in 2016.
Police say poachers smuggle elvers in suitcases, roughly 500,000 young eels to a bag, to Chinese farms to reproduce and grow to their full size.
Michel Vignaud, head of fishing regulation at France’s National Biodiversity Agency, said, “Trying to control the traffickers is getting more dangerous. These are people who operate on the sidelines of mass organized crime,” said Vignaud.
Currently, Europol is working to control the situation and successfully confiscated 350 kg of eels earlier this year.