European authorities have arrested 27 suspects in an alleged illegal eel operation following a two-year investigation that led to searches in France, Spain, Belgium and Poland, Spain’s Guardia Civil said this week.
The Civil Guard, in a joint operation with the French National Gendarmerie, Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office, seized 1 ½ tonnes of live eels in critical danger of extinction and many more tonnes of frozen eels that had been subjected to food safety checks.
The recovered live eels were returned to their “natural environment to preserve (their) survival,” the Guardia Civil said of the fish considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The suspects are accused of running a criminal operation to smuggle the eels into China, where it is a “valuable commodity,” according to the Guardia Civil.
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Eels can cost more than $5,000 a kilogram in some Asian countries, “which is why, for years, criminal groups and organizations have been dedicated to hiding consignments of live eels and sending them to customers in Asia,” the Guardia Civil said via a translation.
Assets worth over 2 million euros were also seized from the alleged criminal organization.
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As eels are endangered, trade within the European Union is “subject to fishing and distribution quotas, but its export outside the EU is totally prohibited,” the Civil Guard said.