SEG-Report:2018-1-V1 January 2018
Quantifying the illegal trade in European glass eels (Anguilla anguilla):
Evidences and Indicators
Sustainable Eel Group
The brief report summarizes recent findings and available information in relation to the trafficking of European
eels. This is a complex subject and note that the presented results include uncertainties and simplifications.
Nevertheless, the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) intends to continue to draw attention to the urgent matter by
presenting the best available data that indicate the current dimension and scale of this specific European Illegal
Wildlife Trade issue. Furthermore, SEG raises the concern that the illegal trade in European eels from Europe to
Asia keeps and amplifies the pressure on a stock that urgently needs greater protection. Trafficking in eels is
considered to be a serious threat to the future of the species and the livelihood of up to 10 000 people across
The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is an important commercial freshwater fish species, exploited in nearly all
countries in Europe and in the Mediterranean, parts of Africa and the western edge of Asia (e.g. Turkey)1. The
species is currently classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN)2 and listed in Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES). The eel is subject to EU Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 aiming to establish a framework
for the protection and sustainable use of the stock3. Export out of and import into Europe has been suspended
since December 20104.
There are a range of factors that account for the declines in A. anguilla stocks including habitat loss, migration
barriers, changing oceanic conditions, predation, pollution, disease and parasites, and overexploitation5.
Recovery of the stock will require action in the fields of water management, hydropower generation, pollution,
fisheries management, and more. In this document, the focus is on the illegal exports of glass eels caught within
the EU – the likely overall numbers and economic value. The enormity and continuing scale in trafficking,
potentially being three times as large as the legal market, is not only a massive human impact on the stock but
also fundamentally undermines the credibility of the European eel protection plans.
2. Enforcement operations
Scientific studies have proven that European glass eels are illegally exported to Asia6 and that farmed European
eel products subsequently return to Europe for consumption purpose7. Enforcement operations in Europe resulted
in interceptions of glass eel shipments and arrests. Major police operations led by Spanish SEPRONA/Guardia
Civil and EUROPOL uncovered different international operating networks smuggling glass eels out of Europe in
suitcases (Operation Black Glass8) and in cargo (Operation Abaia9). In season 2016/2017, European
enforcements arrested 48 people involved in eel trafficking. At the Standing Committee 69, CITES published a
document by the European Union that summarizes eel seizures across Europe and Asia between 2013 and
201710. Though the enforcement operations were able to catch and arrest illegal exports, that has not brought the
illegal export to an end yet. Whereas the total volume of illegal exports is estimated at ca. 30 t (see below), the
total volume intercepted in enforcement operations was in the order of 8 t.
For updated seizure records, media publications and general updates on eel trafficking and subsequent
prosecutions please visit: http://www.sustainableeelgroup.org/trafficking-updates/
3. European glass eel market surveys
In spring 2016 and 2017, SEG carried out investigations in order to estimate the annual European glass eels
market demand. Questionnaires were sent to national and regional eel restocking authorities, fishery and angling
associations as well as glass eel traders across Europe. Accordingly, information about glass eel quantities,
demanded for restocking programmes and aquaculture use were collated. In the final step, the discrepancy
between the declared European catch and legal market demand was calculated.
SEG-Report:2018-1-V1 January 2018
In fishing season 2015/2016, 59.2 t of glass eel catches were declared to national authorities in France, Spain,
Portugal and UK. In season 2016/2017, 64.3 t were declared (Fig 1). Based on the data from the questionnaires,
SEG determined the scale of the European market consisting of the demand of commercial aquaculture and for
In 2016, 17.4 t were used for aquaculture purpose and 19.1 t in 2017, respectively. The amount used for restocking
was significantly lower in both years: 12.2 t in 2016 and 13.4 t in 2017. France is the only country in Europe that
seeks to manage the fishery through a glass eel fishing quota which was set to 57.5 t in 2015/2016 and 65 t in
2016/2017 – exceeding the European glass eel
demand by 94 % and 100 %, respectively. In both
seasons, the proportion of eels which was
untraceable, accounted to some 50 % (30 t) of
the declared European catches (Fig 1).
Considering that 1 kg of European glass eels
consist of 3 500 pieces, 30 t of eels account for
105 million eels.
The absolute numbers have to be regarded with
caution and be used as indicative. The market
surveys were carried out just after the glass eel
fishing season in the United Kingdom was closed
(25 May) aiming to provide an early-warning
indication for authorities and enforcement
agencies. Consequently, not all trade
transactions as well as restocking measures in all
countries might have been completed.
Additionally, there is evidence from recent years
that eels which were purchased for restocking
purpose ended up in commercial farms or were
illegally traded to Asia. Therefore, uncertainty
and related under- and over estimation is likely.
Our market surveys do not take into account any
data on Illegal, Underreported and Unregulated
(IUU) fishing of glass eels.
Compilation of available data sources reveals a fundamental lack in glass eel traceability (Fig 2). The Joint
EIFAAC/ICES/GFCM Working Group on Eel (WGEEL) determined that 23 % and 43 % of the annual catch was
not traceable between 2012 and 2016. The Japanese Eel News Paper Nihon Yoshoku Shimbun reported annual
imports of European eel as between 18 t and 30 t between 2013 and 2017. This source does not distinguish
between legal sourced from outside the EU such as North African countries and European countries. Enforcement
records of those caught in illegal transit were additionally compiled per fishing seasons and account for up to 9.5
% of the annual catch.
Figure 2: Traceability of eels relative to declared European catches. Numbers at the bottom of the columns show the absolute value in t.
Numbers on top of the columns represent the proportion in relation to the total declared European annual catch in glass eels in percentage.
Black points represent the accumulated European glass eel catches. Asian imports = imports of European glass eels reported by Japanese
News Paper Nihon Yoshoku Shimbun; WGEEL = Annual reports of the Joint EIFAAC/ICES/GFCM Working Group on Eel (2012,2013,2016);
SEG studies = Glass eel market surveys conducted by the Sustainable Eel Group; Trafficking evidence = Press releases by national
enforcement agencies; Source: SEG-Report-2018-1-V1
Figure 1: Glass eel catches and destinations. Catch data were extracted
from WGEEL reports 2016 and 2017. Source: SEG-Report-2018-1-V1
SEG-Report:2018-1-V1 January 2018
4. Impacts of illegal trade in European glass eels
Public attention on the illegal trade in glass eels has recently been raised globally through media coverage of the
successful police operations concluding with seizures, arrests and court cases. However, the economic and
biological impacts have not been quantified consequently SEG has created a range scenarios in order to help
Takes into account the quantity of eels which was proved by enforcement operations in fishing season 2016/2017
Takes into account the appr oximate quantity of eels which remained untraceable in SEG’s market surveys for season
2015/2016 and 2016/2017
Takes into account the approximate quantity of eels which was guesstimated by Spanish enforcements11 for season
2016/2017 and includes IUU
Takes into account the quantity of eels t hat circulates as persistent rumour every season
4.1 Economic value of trafficked European glass eels
In January 2018, the glass eel market price for Japanese eel reached a high record (26 709 €/kg) based on
historically low supply12. Due to this shortage prices for other freshwater eel species increased globally. Price in
Asia raised to 6 250 €/kg for European eel (A. anguilla) and 8 000 €/kg for American eel (A. rostrata).
Information about eel farm productivity and prices paid per kilogram for raw filet and processed eel filet were
provided by DUPAN, the Dutch foundation of eel traders, farmers and professional fishermen. For simplification,
SEG used the following parameter/values: 1 kg glass eels (3 500 pcs) – when grown in modern aquaculture -
produces 1 260 kg live eels (400g/pcs, 10% mortality considered) and subsequently 592 kg of raw filet and 387 kg
of processed eel kabayaki filet. The following values are considered: raw filet at wholesale level = 12 €/kg;
processed filet at wholesale level = 36 €/kg; processed filet at consumer level = 60 €/kg.
Glass eels (t)
Raw filet (t)
Raw filet (€)
processed filet (€)
processed filet (€)
408 milli on
816 milli on
1 36 billion
1 36 billion
2 27 billion
Table 1: Economic value of trafficked European eel. Source: SEG-Report-2018-1-V1
Depending on the scenario and the defined parameters, the economic values resulting from trafficked European
eels vary from 59 million € to 711 million € for the raw filet and from 188 million € to 2 27 billion € for the processed
filet at consumer level (Tab 1). It should be recognised that the parameters are simplified and scenarios rely on
guesstimates. The true value is probably in the middle of this range and varies enormously from year to year.
4.2 Illegal trade relative to annual European glass eel recruitment
The European eel’s extensive range from North Africa to
the Barents Sea constitutes just a single biological
population, with individuals from all areas potentially
Based on lacking international collaborations throughout
its’ vast natural range, the stock size is difficult to quantify.
The trend in glass eel recruitment (the number of glass eels
that enter continental waters) is one of the indicators used
by the WGEEL to assess the stock status. Bornarel et al
(2017) applied a Bayesian model, the Glass Eel
Recruitment Estimation Model (GEREM), to model the
annual absolute recruitment. According to the model, the
European eel recruitment was 10 825 t in 1960 and 440 t
in 2015. For the simplified calculation, we considered 440
t as the current annual recruitment.
Enforcement agencies determined evidence that in season
2016/2017 about 8 t were trafficked to Asia e.g. were
destined to be sent to Asia. This accounts for 2 % of the
Figure 3: Trafficked European glass eel quantities relative to
annual European glass eel recruitment. Annual European
glass eel r ecruitment refers to Bornar el et al 2017. Sourc e: SEG-
SEG-Report:2018-1-V1 January 2018
annual glass eel recruitment. Scenarios 2-4 imply that 7-29 % of the European glass eel recruitment are annually
4.3 Illegal trade relative to global eel aquaculture production
Information about the quantity of global eel production
differs significantly by source. The Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated the
global aquaculture production in Anguilla eels to be
274 000 t in 201514. The Wildlife Trade Monitoring
Network TRAFFIC based the estimate for global
aquaculture production on the Joint Statement by China,
Japan, Korea and Taiwan15. We used TRAFFIC’s
estimate of 150 000 t global aquaculture production for
The amount of live eels resulting from 1 kg of glass eels
farmed in modern aquaculture is calculated as 1 260 kg.
The proportion of trafficked European eels with
enforcement evidence (Scen1) accounts for 7 % of the
global annual eel production. The untraceable
proportion from the market surveys (Scen2) accounts
for 25 % and the guesstimate by Spanish enforcements
for 50 % of the global annual eel production.
The listing of the European eel in CITES Appendix II and its subsequent implementation by the EU has been
made to protect the eel. The EU established the Eel Regulation3 to ensure protection and enable sustainable use.
In Article 12: ‘Control and enforcement concerning imports and exports of eel’, the EU is very explicit about the
obligations concerning traceability: “No later than 1 July 2009, Member States shall: - take the measures
necessary to identify the origin and ensure the traceability of all live eels imported or exported from their territory
(…)”. For the past two fishing seasons, SEG estimates that about 50 % of the annually declared glass eel catches
in the EU are not traceable due to the absence of an effective traceability system. Due to cross-border trade
activities, a European-wide and harmonised electronic system seems to be to most adequate to meet full
traceability. Such an approach is now vital to the attainment of the goal ‘the protection and sustainable use’ as
well as the preservation of small community livelihoods across Europe. Also, it should be noted that genetic
studies have shown that European eels which likely originated from illegal export from Europe are returning to the
EU as processed products without CITES permit and therefore in violation of international law and so further
undermine Europe eel community and industry.
In order to implement full traceability in eels and therefore effectively counter eel trafficking, SEG advices is to:
1) implement a European-wide electronic system that ensures full traceability of all eel trade
2) genetically test all Anguilla imports into the European Union
3) increase enforcement to ensure that eel fishery and trade is sufficiently controlled
Figure 4: Trafficked European eels relative to global eel
production. Global eel aquaculture producti on refers to TRAFFIC
2015; Scenarios base on the assumption that 1 kg of glass eels
produces 1 260 kg of live eels. Source: SEG-Report-2018-1-V1
SEG-Report:2018-1-V1 January 2018
1 Dekker W (2003) On the distribution of the European eel and its fisheries. Canadian Journal of Fisheries
and Aquatic Sciences, 60: 787 – 799.
2 Jacoby D, Gollock M (2014) Anguilla anguilla. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Version 2014.3.
http://www.iucnredlist.org/. Accessed 18 May 2015
3 EU (2007) Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 of 18 September 2007 establishing measures for the
recovery of the stock of European eel http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-
4 EC (2010) Conclusions of the 54th meeting of the Scientific Review Group on trade in wild fauna and flora
5 Dekker W (2003) Did lack of spawners cause the collapse of the European eel, Anguilla anguilla?.
Fisheries Management and Ecology, 10: 365–376. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2400.2003.00352.x
6 Stein FM., Wong JCY, Sheng V, Law CSW, Schröder B, Baker DM (2016) Conservation Genetic
Resources 8: 539. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12686-016-0588-x
7 Vandamme SG, Griffiths AM, Taylor S-A, Di Muri C, Hankard EA, Towne JA, Watson M Mariani S (2016)
Sushi barcoding in the UK: another kettle of fish. PeerJ 4:e1891; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1891
13 Bornarel V, Lambert P, Briand C, Antunes C, Belpaire C, Ciccotti E, Diaz E, Diserud O, Doherty D,
Domingos I, Evans D, de Graaf M, O’Leary C, Pedersen M, Poole R, Walker A, Wickström H, Beaulaton
L, Drouineau H (2017) Modelling the recruitment of European eel (Anguilla anguilla) throughout its
European range, ICES Journal of Marine Science, fsx180, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx180
14 FAO (2017). Global Anguilla spp. production 2015. FISHSTAT Global Capture and Aquaculture
Production Databases: http://www.fao.org/shery/statistics/global-capture-production/en;
http://www.fao.org/ shery/statistics/global-aquaculture-production/en. Data extracted November 2017.
15 Shiraishi H & Crook V (2015) Eel market dynamics: an analysis of Anguilla production, trade and
consumption in East Asia. TRAFFIC. Tokyo, JAPAN
Anonymous (2018) Quantifying the illegal trade in European glass eels (Anguilla anguilla): Evidences and
Indicators. Sustainable Eel Group. SEG-Report:2018-1-V1
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