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First genetic evidence of illegal trade in endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) from Europe to Asia

An Erratum to this article was published on 18 August 2016


Eel farming in Asia relies on wild-caught juvenile “glass eels” of the genus Anguilla. When supplies of Japanese eels (Anguilla japonica) declined in the 1990s, Asian eel farming shifted to using European eels (Anguilla anguilla). The European eel is currently classified as “Critically Endangered”, and export out of Europe has been suspended since March 2009. In early 2016, glass eels were seized at the Hong Kong International Airport and genetically identified using the COI barcode region. Samples matched A. anguilla with a similarity range of 99.39–99.85 %. To our knowledge, this is the first documented case of illegal trade of A. anguilla from Europe into Hong Kong using genetic evidence. Furthermore, multiple isolated incidents of eel seizures by customs indicate that Hong Kong is a major hub facilitating illegal trade in eels from Europe to Asia. We demonstrated that COI barcoding is a suitable tool in identifying illegally imported A. anguilla, which can support enforcement and prosecution as well as enable international cooperation between Europe and Asia.

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Funding for this project was provided by the University of Hong Kong, University of Potsdam and Technische Universität Braunschweig. The glass eel samples were kindly provided by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the CITES Management Authority of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China. Information on past seizures were provided by European CITES authorities. We thank TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network and the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) for assistance and support.

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Correspondence to David M. Baker.

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Stein, F.M., Wong, J.C.Y., Sheng, V. et al. First genetic evidence of illegal trade in endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) from Europe to Asia. Conservation Genet Resour 8, 533–537 (2016).

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  • Forensics
  • DNA barcoding
  • Wildlife trade
  • Anguilla anguilla
  • Hong Kong