Some 170,000 endangered glass eels found in suitcases at Schiphol Airport
Authorities working at Schiphol Airport discovered more than 170,000 baby European glass eels in two passengers' suitcases. Two Malaysian men were arrested as a result of the find. The eel is on the critically endangered list and is a protected species in Europe, and importing or exporting them is prohibited.
The suitcases were checked in on a flight to Malaysia, according to the Dutch food and safety authority NVWA. "Customs employees found the four suitcases among luggage for a flight to Malaysia. The suitcases contained plastic bags filled with water and young eels," the NVWA said in a statement.
A total of 54 kilograms of glass eels was found inside the plastic bags. In some countries, the eels can be sold for several thousand euros per kilogram.
In a previous case, European law enforcement agency Europol said, "The trafficking of glass eels is one of the most substantial and lucrative illegal trades of protected species worldwide, with illegal profits estimated to be up to 3 billion euros in peak years." Smuggling eels out of the European Union picked up again after Covid-19 travel rules were relaxed, prompting passengers to try trafficking eels in baggage. Organized crime gangs try to use passengers as mules using a system that keeps the eels alive for two days.
Europol alleged that in the past, EU nationals illegally catch the eels in European waterways, and hand them over to nationals who try to smuggle them into their home countries either in passenger baggage or in cargo shipments disguised as other items. "In certain cases, glass eels are bought from poachers; in others, legally fished glass eels are deviated to illegal markets using cargo declared to customs authorities as other commodities and camouflaged to trick the scanners."
Once in Asia, the eels can then be grown in fish farms. They are then sold and sent sent to markets worldwide.
Customs officers at Schiphol Airport identified the prohibited items in the suitcases. The NVWA was tasked with confirming the find, while the Marechaussee carried out the arrests.
The only scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Malaysia on Tuesday was KLM flight 809, which had a scheduled stop in Kuala Lumpur on its way to Jakarta, Indonesia. The flight departed a few minutes late at 8:55 p.m.