The Guardia Civil’s reintroduction of the eels to Spain’s Ebro river came as part of the ASKEA-LAKE operation carried out under the coordination of EUROPOL.
The operation lead to the arrest and investigation of 29 people, as well as the seizure of 180 kilos of elver (young eels) with a black market value that could reach €270,000.
The operation has involved the collaboration of numerous European countries and a total of 49 people have been investigated in Europe.
The outstanding work carried out by Spain in the fight against poaching and illegal trafficking of elvers, with the Guardia Civil being the leading police force in terms of seizures and arrests in recent years, is reflected at European level in the international operation in which more than 24 countries have been involved in the last year.
In Spain, nearly 3,000 controls and inspections have been carried out in ports, airports and roads. Most of the criminal and administrative offences involved illegal fishing, illegal possession and trafficking of protected species and infringements of the regulations on natural areas.
The Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITERD) as CITES Management Authority, together with members of SEPRONA of Barcelona, has proceeded to the release into the natural environment of part of the specimens seized in the Ebro Delta.
In this way, one of the most difficult objectives in the fight against species trafficking has been achieved, namely the total reintroduction of the specimens seized into the environment.
The Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (IRTA) of Sant Carles de la Ràpita, part of the Departamentd’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca, Alimentació i Medi Natural de la Generalitat de Catalunya, has also collaborated in order to guarantee the survival and subsequent return to the environment of the seized elvers.
Following the end of the restrictions on passenger flights as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resumption of air traffic has meant that criminal organisations have restarted illegal exports by sending elvers camouflaged in personal luggage, using suitcases fitted out for transport with oxygen-injected bags.
Front companies have also been identified which were set up specifically for the purpose of disguising exports of other types of refrigerated foodstuffs, glass eels, which, it should be remembered, are totally prohibited from being exported abroad.
Most of these movements are destined for the Asian market, a major consumer of the species.
This illicit activity is led by well-structured criminal organisations, which are adopting more and more security measures to facilitate transit between countries and avoid police control.
In this way, the use of different departure routes is becoming more and more frequent, with airports as far away from the point of origin of the catch as Serbia, Macedonia or other Eastern European countries.
The alarming population decline of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) was such that the European authorities had to adopt decisions aimed at controlling its fishing and trade (including it in the CITES Convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), establishing a zero quota for export to third countries, where there is a strong demand for its consumption.
The news follows reports that a criminal organisation dedicated to the theft of vehicles, in Madrid and Toledo, for their subsequent manipulation, dismantling and sale as original parts has been busted by the Guardia Civil, as reported on Wednesday, September 28.
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