Interview Pieterjan Verhelst @ RTBF on illegally transported European eel

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

MarBiol researcher Pieterjan Verhelst was asked by RTBF - the public broadcasting station for the French speaking community in Belgium - to give some words about the European eel in light of the illegal trafficking to Asia that has been going on for some years now.

View the interview here.

Juvenile European eels (Anguilla anguilla L.), called glass eels, are being transported illegally from Europe to Asia. Due to the critically endangered status of the European eel, CITES prohibits the trade of the species outside Europe. However, since the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) stock has crashed earlier this year, an increasing pressure from the Asian market on the European eel exists. This year, already 15 million glass eels have been intercepted by European authorities. However, it is estimated that 350 million glass eels reach the Japanese market, leading to a 3 billion euro industry. Specifically, the illegally caught glass eels sell at €1000 - €2000/kg in Europe and once in Asia, selling rates skyrocket up to €5000 - €6000/kg. Hence, the illegal trade is considered the largest wildlife crime of Europe. Even more, glass eels currently sell at prices higher than the well-known ivory (€700 - €1800/kg). To stop the trade, authorities like INTERPOL are raising control on cabin luggage at airports, through which glass eels are transported in cooled bags. Note that legal commercial fishing on European glass eels exists, which sell at a more modest €200 per kilo. 60% of the catches are used for restocking purposes throughout Europe to aid the recovery of the population; the other 40% is reared in aquaculture facilities for human consumption.