Europol’s “Operation Lake” nets 108 suspected elver smugglers

Europol announced earlier this month that the fourth edition of its “Operation Lake” – which ran from October 2018 through April 2020 – resulted in the arrest of 108 suspected elver smugglers and the seizure of EUR 6.2 million (USD 5.5 million) worth of smuggled elvers.

The operation targeted smugglers and traffickers of endangered species throughout the E.U. and involves agents from the E.U. Wildlife/CITES Enforcement Group, EnviCrimeNet, and the E.U. Food Fraud network; which all coordinated with law enforcement from 19 countries across Europe.

European eels are a protected species, with elvers – also known as glass eels – being a regular target of smugglers hoping to make big money thanks to the high value of the species. The tiny eels can be worth up to EUR 1.00 (USD 1.12) each, and their tiny size means a kilogram of eels can be worth thousands of euros.

According to a release from Europol, this year’s operation faced challenges due to COVID-19.

“This year’s operation became more challenging for the police officers as the fishing season took place during the COVID-19 lockdown in China,” Europol said. “This made the links between the E.U. and the Asian country more complicated and had an impact on all transactions, including illegal ones.”

Highlights of the operation include the Spanish Civil Guard arresting 56 smugglers, reporting 81 individuals, and seizing more than 722 kilograms of glass eels. The Portuguese Food Safety and Economic Authority, as well, seized EUR 2 million (USD 2.2 million) worth of the small eels in addition to dismantling two facilities: One dedicated to producing illegal fishing equipment and the other dedicated to preparing the eels for transport.

Europol has stepped up enforcement against eel smuggling in recent years, and last June announced an increased effort to stop the trafficking of eels.

In February, a seafood salesman was convicted of smuggling USD 68 million (EUR 60.6 million) worth of the eels through Britain, and a large smuggling ring worth EUR 37 million (USD 41 million) was stopped back in 2018.  It has been estimated that roughly EUR 3 billion (USD 3.3 billion) worth of elvers is smuggled every year.

Photo courtesy of Europol


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