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Trafficked eels set free in Swiss lake

Eels being set free in a Swiss lake
The European eel is a critically endangered species of fish. Keystone

A catch of eel fry that was intercepted by Swiss customs officials last month have been set free, according to the Swiss News Agency.


The Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary AffairsExternal link released the eels in Lake Murten in western Switzerland.

The ray-finned fish had been seized at Geneva Airport. The finding led to the arrest of seven men. An investigation is underway to determine the extent of the trafficking operation.

The individuals illegally transported about 130,000 eel fry in six suitcases. Arrested in the airport lobby, the seven men were incarcerated in Champ-Dollon prison.

This incident, which was first reported on by the Tribune de Genève, set the stage for the Zurich Airport arrest of another two individuals implicated in the same kind of trafficking. 

The traffickers intercepted in Zurich were transporting 110,000 eel fry. Some experts refer to these fry as European ivory.

Originating in the Sargasso Sea, eel fry – also known as elvers, about three years old – migrate along the Gulf Stream to the Atlantic coasts of North Africa and Europe where they enter freshwater river basins. It is in this setting that eel fry reach their sexual prime before migrating back to the Sargasso Sea, this time against the current of the Gulf Stream, to reproduce.

Eels
About 90% of European eel populations have disappeared in the past 30 years. Keystone

Eel fry are subject to intensive fishing at the mouths of African and European rivers. They are then either fattened on fish farms before being sold or illegally exported as larvae for consumption as delicacies in Asia.

About 90% of European eel populations have disappeared in the past 30 years. For this reason, the species is on the Red List of Critically Endangered Species and in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Import and export are strictly prohibited in the European Union.

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