Customs officials at Schiphol airport have seized 300,000 elvers, or baby eels, in the luggage of three Malaysian nationals, the food safety board NVWA said on Thursday.
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The baby eels, weighing a combined 105 kilos, were being shipped in eight identical large suitcases and were spotted during a stop over on a journey from Portugal to Malaysia. The suitcases attracted the attention of customs officials who then made the find.
The eel is a protected species and exports are subject to strict controls. The three Malaysians, two men and one woman, have been arrested and are being held in custody.
Last month millions of elvers, also known as glass eels, were released into the Grevelingenmeer lake in Zeeland in an effort to keep eel numbers up. The eels found in the suitcases will now be released into Dutch waters.
The EU banned the sale of baby eels outside its waters in 2010 but the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) organisation estimates that 23% of the European glass eels that float to the continent’s shores each year end up being trafficked to Asia, predominantly China.
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According to the most recent figures from Europol, police were involved in rounding up 108 suspected eel smugglers during the 2019/2020 fishing season.
The authorities also seized two tons of glass eels with an estimated value of €6.2 million in the same period.