Illegal Glass Eel Trading
Unfortunately, there is a very significant quantity of A. anguilla glass eel stock in China at the moment. The quantities have increased dramatically in the last few weeks. My impression is that many wholesalers are holding A. anguilla. Imports should be measured in thousands of kilos. The preferred method for imports at the moment is in luggage. 4 people can transport about a 100 kilos.
There appears to be teams of 16-20 people bringing glass eels into Asia every day. Quantities are between 500 and 1000 kgs. These teams are well organised. The operating costs for these people are minimal. Their fixed costs are limited to the air ticket. The risks are very low. These are not drugs being moved. You may ask why the security screening does not pick up these consignments. The volumes of international luggage to be screened is enormous and is done using automatic systems that are programmed to find dangerous goods and not glass eels. Some individual routine security checks at arrivals and departures in Hong Kong and Europe have identified some stocks.
A combination of demand and the CITES regulations have created margin that has facilitated this trade. It will take a paradigm shift for the authorities to admit that the regulations have failed. There are now just too many routes available to transport these glass eel. I do not see that regulations and penalties that are proportionate to this illegal activity will ever be sufficient to prevent this trade. The whole system has broken down. If nothing is done the trade will continue for perpetuity.I was a keen advocate of the suspension of glass eel trade to Asia but I think we need to recognise that the current methods of control have failed and we now have a worse situation than before. There needs to be legal trade to Asia to create some competition in the market to reduce margins to make it unattractive to trade illegally. I do not think it is a good idea to immediately go back to exporting glass eels to Asia but the sale of juveniles from Europe to Asia might be an intermediate step. The aquaculture sector is well regulated within Europe and exports could be much better monitored. In addition there would be the additional financial benefit to the European sector and more funds available for the recovery process.