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News article19 May 2023European Anti-Fraud Office1 min read

OLAF in operation against illegal trafficking of eels

OLAF building
© EU

Over the past years there was a significant increase in the number of cases and operations involving environmental and biodiversity issues and OLAF played a key role in supporting the EU’s commitment to protect endangered species and preserve and restore biodiversity.

On 10 May 2023 the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), in conjunction with EUROPOL and framed in a Joint Investigation Team supported by EUROJUST, participated in a coordinated operation with the French National Gendarmerie, French Judicial Customs Investigation, Office de la France de la Biodiversité, Brigade Nationale d’Enquêtes Vétérinaires et Phytosanitaires and Spain’s Guardia Civil. The operation resulted in the seizure of 1.5 tonnes of live eels that were seized from clandestine incubators in France and Spain. Additionally 27 individuals were arrested and financial assets valued at €2 million were seized.

The live eels that were seized during this joint operation will be used for restocking the eel population in their natural habitat. Sadly, this operation also confiscated several tonnes of frozen eels that had to be destroyed. These joint operations are crucial to dismantle illicit operations and break existing smuggling patterns. OLAF provides analytical support to the units investigating the companies involved and ensures a smooth interaction between the different competent authorities in the Member States involved. The primary contribution of OLAF concerns customs control – with a focus on curbing the illegal outflow of eels.

Further information regarding this operation can be found here:


The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Adults of European eels migrate from European rivers across the Atlantic to spawn in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. They die after spawning and subsequently the larvae drift back to Europe on the Gulf Stream to populate the rivers, lakes and estuaries of Europe and North Africa. On reaching the coast, they are transparent baby ‘glass’ eels before they start migrating up rivers where they grow into adults.

Eel stocks have been declining for over a century. Illegal trade – particularly towards eel aquaculture plants in Asia, especially in China, where glass eels are considered a delicacy – is a major risk to the recovery of eel stocks.


Publication date
19 May 2023
European Anti-Fraud Office
News type
  • OLAF news article