By John Ensor • 31 August 2023 • 12:57
Is the black market for endangered species finally meeting its match? The Guardia Civil, in a coordinated effort with EUROPOL, has arrested 30 people in Spain and seized 18 tons of European eel valued at over €20 million.
The Guardia Civil-led operation, dubbed ASKEA IV-LAKE, took place in collaboration with 32 European countries. It led to the arrest of 30 individuals in Spain, primarily in Asturias and San Sebastián, on charges including species trafficking and smuggling.
The operation has been hailed as historic, with a total of 25 tons of eel seized and 256 people detained across Europe. In Spain alone, nearly 1,000 controls and inspections were conducted in ports, airports, and communication routes.
Three criminal organisations based in Spain, with branches in Portugal and France, were dismantled. The detainees face multiple charges, including species trafficking, smuggling, document falsification, and public health violations.
The investigation revealed that legally established companies were used to introduce illicitly caught eels into the market. Eels were also illicitly exported to Southeast Asian countries, concealed in personal luggage with oxygen bags to ensure their survival for up to 42 hours.
Spain, Portugal, and France were key players in this international effort. The use of legal companies to camouflage illegal activities has made investigations challenging, but cooperation between European countries has enabled complex, multi-country investigations.
More than one ton of live eel and nearly two tons of adult eel were reintroduced into natural habitats. Various fishing research centres collaborated to ensure the survival and return of the seized eels.
The European eel is one of the most endangered native species, and illegal fishing significantly contributes to its decline. This operation is part of Spain’s Action Plan against Illegal Traffic and International Poaching of Wild Species, and the LIFE SATEC project.
The Guardia Civil’s efforts, in collaboration with the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, aim to combat the illegal trade of endangered species and contribute to their conservation.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
When he's not writing for EWN he enjoys gigging in a acoustic duo, looking after their four dogs, four chickens, two cats, and cycling up mountains very slowly.
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