27 people arrested between Spain and France in a macro-operation against the illegal trafficking of eels

The Spanish Civil Guard, in a joint operation with the French National Gendarmerie, coordinated by Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has seized 1.5 tons of live eels.

Some thirty simultaneous searches have been carried out at homes, company headquarters and clandestine nurseries in Spain and France, and extended to Belgium and Poland, in which a total of 27 people have been arrested for crimes of belonging to a criminal organization, trafficking of protected species, smuggling and money laundering.

Within these records, several tons of frozen batches of eels have also been seized, without traceability or sanitary controls, unsuitable for disposal in the food chain. In addition, assets worth more than 2 million euros have been seized.

The investigations began in 2021 thanks to the police collaboration between the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) and the French customs service, the OCLAESP of the French Gendarmerie, when a series of irregularities were detected in the trade of European eel (guilla eel eel) in different stages of development (fry–elvers and adults–eel).

Due to its precarious situation, classified as critical by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), this species is included in CITES Appendix II (Annex B of Community Regulation 338/97), which means that its trade Within the EU it is subject to fishing and distribution quotas, but its export outside the EU is totally prohibited.

However, it is a highly valued product in some Asian countries, the consumption of which makes it reach values ​​of up to 5,000 euros per kilo, which is why, for years, criminal groups and organizations dedicated to concealing batches of live eels and send them to customers in Asia.

modus operandi

A transnational criminal organization established between the north of Spain (Guipuzkoa and Pontevedra) and the south of France (Aquitaine) has been dismantled, whose leaders controlled the entire eel supply and distribution chain outside of government controls. the administration.

This group, made up of both fishermen and commercial managers and wholesalers, was in charge of removing live eels from the legal circuit to supply them to citizens of Chinese origin, who had clandestine nurseries in the Paris area, in France and Antwerp, in Belgium. From there, they organized trips for people to Asia, who, through different European airports near the nurseries, carried luggage containing eel specimens.

During the investigation, it was found that up to 14 tons of juvenile eel and 31 tons of adult eel were removed from the legal circuit, which in the legal market would have reached a value of more than 6.7 million euros.

Performances in Spain

In Spain, there are eight people arrested or investigated in the provinces of Guipuzkoa (6), Navarra (1) and Pontevedra (1). The actions in the different companies and warehouses involved have had the support of the Provincial Council of Guipuzkoa and the Xunta de Galicia.

Reintroduction to the natural environment

The apprehended live eel specimens are in a Navarrese government fish farm, in agreement with the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, and their release into the natural environment is planned to preserve their survival.

In this way, one of the most difficult objectives in the fight against species trafficking is achieved and the ultimate goal in this type of operation, which is the total reintroduction into the environment of the intervened specimens, thus contributing to improving their conservation through long term.