CHINA seems to continue to be the destination of smuggled endangered or threatened species and the Guardia Civil has been involved in a cooperative venture between a number of European countries in an action to protect eels.
Working through Europol and Eurojust, officers from France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom have swapped information concerning the illegal trade in eels and their exportation to the Far East.
Nine individuals have been arrested in Greece and eight in Spain from Sevilla, Tarragona and Valencia including two Chinese individuals who were responsible for obtaining illicit funds from Hong Kong in order to pay for the eels.
Officers from the Seprona arm of the Guardia Civil raided nine properties and found two tonnes of live, mainly juvenile eels, together with €540,000 in cash and a number of gold ingots also used to pay for the expensive and much sought after delicacy.
Having decided that a company in Tarragona, which had previously been investigated for illegal trade in the eels was definitely involved, officers met with counterparts from across Europe to decide a plan of action.
It transpired that some of the eels were caught legally but many were caught in areas of Spain where trawling for them was banned and these Spanish eels were mixed with eels caught in other parts of the EU in order to confuse any investigation.
Consignments of between 800 and 1,000 kilos of the eel fry were transported overland to Greece and then smuggled on to Hong Kong and China with prices rising from the €180 per kilo paid to fishermen to €7,000 per kilo once they reached China.
Whilst it is legal to catch and supply these eels in certain parts of the European Union, there is a complete ban on international trade which helps to protect the integrity of the species and keep stocks manageable.
In Spain the cost of Angulas in the few restaurants that sell them is extremely high, but the Gulas produced from fish substitute Surimi look and taste very similar and are available in supermarkets at a fraction of the cost.