China is raising eels that are smuggled out of Europe and eventually shipping them to Japan, said Spanish police.
A senior Spanish officer for environmental crimes told Kyodo News agency that huge amounts of young European eels are smuggled into the mainland and farmed for about half a year before being sold to the Japanese market.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention, it’s illegal to export European eel fry since 2010.
Yet the practice still persists, and peaks around the fishing season of the species between autumn and spring for the juvenile eels to be smuggled into China around December.
There, they are farmed in aquaculture ponds for six months before being sold to Japan in time to meet demand over summer, when the fish is considered a delicacy.
According to Japan’s Finance Ministry, China is the biggest exporter of eel to Japan, with about 15,000 tons of it shipped over in 2017.
In the first half of this year, live imports form China rose more than 50 percent over last year to around 3,166 tons, despite minuscule catches of young eels in the region this season.
Major Japanese supermarkets do not sell European eels, said Japan’s Fisheries Agency, but they are unable to tell the provenance of the fish if it’s imported as processed food.
The practice was only discovered after Spanish police arrested 10 people in April, including Chinese nationals, on suspicion of smuggling juvenile eels to China.