TRAFFIC and Alibaba.com work together to prevent illegal exports of young eels from the Philippines
Beijing, China, 26th October 2012—TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, and global online B2B e-commerce platform, Alibaba.com, are working together to try and combat illegal exports of young eels from the Philippines following concerns over the threat to the country’s wild eel population caused by overharvesting.
Heavy exploitation of eel populations led to the Filipino government banning commercial exports of juvenile eels in May this year.
As a result of significant declines in catches of Japanese Eels Anguilla japonica in Japan and Taiwan and restrictions on trade of European Eels A. anguilla in recent years, demand for new sources of young eels or “live eel fry” to supply farms in Asia has been on the rise.
The European Eel was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to help protect it from over-exploitation in 2007. In 2010, the EU suspended all exports and imports of European Eel commodities.
In response, the major consumer markets for eels in East Asia have looked elsewhere to meet demand, with the Philippines rapidly emerging as a significant new source for both Japanese Eels and a newly discovered species, the Luzon Eel Anguilla huangi, known only from waters of northern Luzon.
Following the Filipino government ban, young eels have continued to be traded illegally from the Philippines. Last month, 13 boxes of live eel fry bound for Taiwan were intercepted at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, while in July, 949 kg were found being smuggled onto a flight bound for Hong Kong.
In July, TRAFFIC surveys found almost 50 listings from businesses in the Philippines offering eel fry or glass eels for sale through online B2B platform Alibaba.com. Several reported they could supply for export hundreds of kilos of glass eels of a variety of eel species every month.
After TRAFFIC contacted Alibaba.com about these potentially illegal exports, the company responded by removing the infringing suppliers from its website, and have agreed to prevent future listings of eel fry from the Philippines.
“The listing or sale of any animal, including any animal parts, protected by CITES or any other local law or regulation is strictly forbidden by the listing rules of Alibaba.com,” said John Spelich, Vice President, International Corporate Affairs, Alibaba Group.
“We appreciate the help by site users and groups like TRAFFIC to notify us of any questionable products posted on the site.”
Anyone found guilty of smuggling eels in the Philippines faces up to eight years in jail and confiscation of their goods, or a hefty fine and other punitive measures.
“TRAFFIC warmly welcomes Alibaba.com’s cooperation, which will help the enforcement authorities in the Philippines striving to protect their threatened native wildlife,” said Vicki Crook, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC in Europe.
Worldwide, wild populations of eels (Anguilla species) have declined considerably over the past 30 years owing to several factors, including overharvesting for trade. Many wild juvenile eels are caught and used as “seed” in farming operations. Eel farming, which is responsible for over 90% of commercial eel production worldwide, is reliant on young eels taken from the wild owing to the limited success as yet in reproducing these species in captivity.
Prior to 1990, eel farming was almost exclusively carried out using species of local provenance. European Eel was cultured in Europe and Japanese Eel in Asia. However, a decline in eel stocks in Asia and the relatively abundant and cheap supplies of European glass eels led to many Asian eel farms switching suppliers at the end of the 1990s.
Juvenile eels used for farming purposes are often called “live eel fry”. Live eel fry can include various juvenile stages of eels, including the very young “glass eels” to the more developed “elvers”.
With supplies of eels from Asia and Europe now curtailed, there are already reports of rising eel exports from North America and Madagascar to Asia.
“It’s a repeating pattern; as one eel stock is depleted, the markets turn elsewhere. Without sustainable fisheries management measures in place, it won’t be long before eel populations worldwide are at crisis levels,” said Crook.