There is indeed widespread – and often illegal – international trade in endangered European eels. That’s the conclusion of a report by scientists from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and University College London, based on analyzes of 114 samples of ingredients such as jelly and unagi used in sushi and tanburi.
Researchers note that European eel It has been found to be sold in the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, North America and Asian markets. Endangered American and Japanese eels were often found in the same places.
Why is this important?The European eel was once an abundant species in rivers and an important source of local fisheries. However, the species is currently in serious decline and must be actively protected and managed. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of the original population remains. To protect the fish, the European Union has banned the import and export of European eels. However, it has become a breeding ground for a very lucrative illegal trade, which now includes a veritable eel mafia.
Popularity of Japanese Cuisine: “The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine around the world has led to an increase in demand for freshwater eel,” said study leader Andrew Griffiths, professor of life sciences at the University of Exeter.
- “The complex life cycle of these eels – including migration through rivers to spawn in the sea – means the species cannot reproduce in large numbers in captivity. The illegal trade involves catching young eels in Europe and transporting the animals to East Asia, where they then end up in fish farms.
- “It is difficult to determine where the eels come from, but it is unlikely that all the eels found in the samples came from the small number of European eels legally exported from North Africa,” the researchers say.
- “These eels may have entered the supply chain through illegal trade.” Among other things, 40 percent of unagi samples analyzed in North America were found to contain traces of European eel.
- The study also noted a large discrepancy between the eel’s natural range and the locations where stocks are typically sold.
- It is also worth noting that more European eels are offered for sale in East Asia than in Europe. On the other hand, more Japanese eels were found in the United Kingdom than in East Asia.
- “In addition to concerns about illegal trade and species conservation, stocks of eels travel thousands of feeding miles, resulting in a large ecological footprint,” the scientists argue.
- “Most of the traditional eel products found in the UK – including the popular jellied eels sold in London’s East End – are made from European eels,” say the researchers. “Even if such products are legal, they still consume dangerous species.”
Informed Choices: Scientists assert that many factors have contributed to the decline in eel populations.
- “Habitat disturbance, including the construction of dams on rivers, should be noted,” it says. “Climate change is also contributing to the problems, which are exacerbated by overfishing. Eating European eel in traditional dishes in Europe has already led to repeated controversies.
- “Packaging and menus rarely specify the type of eel for sale,” the researchers note.
- “This makes it more difficult for consumers to make ethical and informed choices. Illegal trade and lack of information for consumers will persist for a long time.
- “To deal effectively with these issues, an adequate traceability system must be developed throughout the supply chain, while better labeling must be introduced.”
- In June last year, European authorities announced the arrest of 49 people linked to a network of smugglers who smuggled live eels in suitcases.
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