Four men arrested at Lisbon airport for attempting to smuggle €700,000 of live baby eels to Asia
Portugal’s PSP police force seized 104 kg of live elver, European eel in the larval phase and a protected species, which was destined for the Asian market, detaining four men for practising a crime against nature.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Lisbon metropolitan command of the PSP, in conjunction with the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), said that they had worked together on the joint operation that led on Monday to the arrests at the capital’s airport of the four men, aged between 38 and 50.
The approximate value of the seizure should it have reached the market is estimated at €700,000, according to the statement.
The authorities said the detainees had been under surveillance and tried to check in 12 regular suitcases at an airline counter for a flight whose final destination was an Asian country.
The PSP intercepted the four men and escorted them to police premises, where they found the elver packed in suitcases, which would have been transported by passengers “who are simply couriers paid for the purpose”.
In Portugal, the capture of elver is only permitted in the River Minho, subject to strict regulation under fisheries legislation. Catching and marketing them may only be done with European Union certification, issued by the ICNF.
The suspects told the authorities that the baby eels were packaged in water and protected with thermal films, so as to allow the temperature to stay stable throughout the journey, as it is crucial that the elver arrives alive at the destination.
Elver, according to the ICNF, constitute one of the stages of development of the complex life cycle of the European eel whose scientific name is Anguilla anguilla.
According to the authorities, the elver has two main commercial uses: in gourmet dishes (with restaurants paying €20,000 per kg) and the breeding of eels from these smuggled baby eels.
“Breeders pay thousands of euros per kilo to traffickers, but they use it for more than one business”, the PSP statement said, elaborating: “The elver are also released in rice fields, where it grows and fattens by eating the parasites of those crops. Hence, it not only helps in rice production, but ultimately ends up – in adulthood – being marketed throughout Asia and even exported back to Europe”.