In recent years, the European eel population has declined by 90%. Eel trafficking, in addition to pollution, could be one of the reasons for this decline.
Eels are smuggled from Europe to Asia in deplorable conditions. These fragile fish have to survive the journey to Asia. Asia, for its traditional medicine, is an import hub. Many species are imported to the continent.
Eels can be smuggled in two ways : they are transported in refrigerated containers by air freight under cover of other seafood products, or falsely declared as such. Or they are smuggled by commercial airlines in specially prepared baggage.
Whatever the mode of transport, the eels are packed in sealed boxes or plastic bags equipped to guarantee a certain water temperature and oxygen supply.
The cargo escapes food safety controls. The frozen baby eels, known as elvers, are then unfit for human consumption.
To combat eel trafficking, EUROPOL launched Operation LAKE from October 2022 to June 2023. They seized 25 tonnes of live glass eels worth 13 million euros. Estimates quoted by Europol show that eel trafficking incidents have fallen by 50% since 2016, the year following the launch of Operation LAKE.