SIXTEEN people are under arrest for operating an illegal European elver trafficking set-up valued at some €600,000 in Asturias, Guipuzcoa and Madrid.
The Guardia Civil’s ‘Operacion FAME’ also resulted in the seizure of 400 kilos of young eels.
The Guardia said they believed the 16 detainees were members of four organised groups operating illegally in Span and France. The group based in Asturias brought in the undeclared elvers from France and put them with those they had acquired legally from Asturian and Basque rivers. They then sent them to Portugal by taxi to evade controls, and from there they were illegally exported by air in suitcases checked in by Asian ‘mules’.
The Madrid side of the network send larger shipments by plane, declaring them as if they were any other kind of fish or seafood, or even veal. Investigators also believe there were plans to try sending the elvers camouflaged in beer barrels.
Elvers are considered a great delicacy in Spain, and a very pricey one. According to the Administrative Authority of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in the 2018 to 2019 season young eels were selling for around €1,500 a kilo.
The Guardia Civil believe the four organisations could have obtained overall annual profits of more than €6 million.
The Guardia released all the seized elvers into the Bidasoa and Orio rivers in collaboration with the Navarra and Guipuzcoa government environment agencies.