Shocking Endangered Eels Smuggling Attempt – 6 People Arrested At Brussels Airport

A smuggling attempt was halted at Brussels Airport (BRU), Belgium, on Friday 17th February when six people were caught attempting to smuggle critically endangered eels inside eighteen suitcases. The six travellers involved were arrested and are due to appear in court this week.

Brussels Airport
Endangered eels were recently the subject of a smuggling attempt at Brussels Airport © Sébastien Aperghis-Tramoni

Endangered Eels Smuggling Attempt Foiled

On Friday of last week, customs officers at Brussels Airport conducting routine baggage searches discovered 18 suitcases full of endangered European glass eels. The officers opened one case to find multiple eels inside bags of water, in addition to frozen water bottles being used in an attempt to refrigerate them. The other 17 suitcases were inspected and were found to contain the exact same content. The suitcases, which had been wrapped in plastic wrap, contained a total of 200 kg of endangered European glass eels.

A thorough examination of the passengers’ travel records revealed that the owners of the suitcases were six Malaysian travellers, and it was brought to light that they were attempting to smuggle the endangered eels to Malaysia via Vietnam and Qatar. Whilst it is not currently known for what purpose the smugglers were intending to utilise the eels, had the fish made it onto the black market, they are estimated to have been worth around €400,000.

The six passengers were intercepted before their flight departed, and they were unable to provide a permit or papers to prove that they were authorised to transport the endangered species. They were subsequently arrested, remanded in custody and are due to appear before a court in Belgium on Thursday this week. They are reported to face up to five years in prison for smuggling the endangered eel species.

European eels
European eel numbers are now at a critical level © Uwe Kils

European Eels – At Risk Of Extinction

The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a critically endangered species of eel which is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This classification means that international trade of the species is strictly regulated in order to bolster their survival. The CITES Identification Guide for Freshwater Eels (Anguillidae) (Report 5943) states that the top sellers and buyers of glass eel products are the Philippines and South East Asian countries, respectively.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species also lists the species as critically endangered.

Their numbers have declined by around 90% since the 1970s and the reason for the decline has been attributed to overfishing, bacterial predation and natural and artificial barriers to migration. Eels metamorphose throughout their life, and it is when they transform from the larval stage that they then become known as “glass eels”. In this stage, they are characterised by their translucent appearance.

Galápagos giant tortoise
Smugglers have also targeted one of the Galápagos Island’s most famous residents, the Galápagos giant tortoise © macraegi

Another Target Of Smugglers – The Galápagos Giant Tortoise

The disturbing smuggling incident involving endangered eels at Brussels Airport is sadly not an isolated case as other individuals have made cruel attempts to conceal and smuggle endangered species in suitcases.

In 2021, a police officer working at Galápagos Ecological Airport (GPS) was arrested for attempting to smuggle 185 juvenile Galápagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis niger) from the Galápagos Islands to Guayaqui in mainland Ecuador. The endangered species were discovered during a routine inspection when numerous baby tortoises were found dead inside a suitcase. Within the jurisdiction, smuggling such species from the island can result in a prison sentence of between one and three years.

What are your thoughts on the discovery at Brussels Airport? Do you think the possible sentence is sufficient for the crime? Let us know in the comments.

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Rachel Dunster
Rachel Dunster
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