British Columbia-based import company ordered to pay $163,776 fine for illegally importing European eel meat

From: Environment and Climate Change Canada

The Government of Canada is committed to protecting Canadian and foreign species of wild animals and plants that may be at risk of over-exploitation due to unsustainable or illegal trade. The Government fulfills these obligations by observing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and by participating in international efforts with partners such as INTERPOL and Europol.

On March 3, 2021, Pacific Gateway Holding Inc. was ordered to pay a fine of $163,776 after entering a guilty plea in Vancouver court to two charges under federal wildlife legislation. These charges are related to the illegal importation of significant quantities of meat of the Anguilla anguilla, commonly known as the European eel. The company was charged with importing a CITES-listed species without a permit from the country of export, in contravention of subsection 6(2) of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

The European eel, listed in Appendix II of CITES, is classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List and is subject to the European Union’s eel regulations.

The $163,776 fine will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. In addition to the fine, the court ordered that the detained eel meat be forfeited to the Crown for destruction to ensure that the illegally imported product is removed from the commercial market.

Operation Vitrum is an ongoing multi-year Environment and Climate Change Canada-led effort to stop illegal trade in endangered eels. In October 2017, the Canada Border Services Agency referred the first of several shipping containers holding imported eel meat to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Enforcement Branch, beginning a two-year investigation that culminated in one of the largest detentions of illegally imported CITES-listed species to date in Canada.

Between October 2017 and May 2018, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers inspected and sampled, at the Port of Vancouver, seven 21-tonne shipments of eel meat that Pacific Gateway imported from Xiamen, China. Pacific Gateway declared that the shipping containers contained fillets of Anguilla rostrata, or American eel, which is not CITES-listed. However, five of the seven containers inspected were found to contain what was determined to be, through extensive sampling and DNA analysis, CITES-listed European eel meat mixed with legally imported American eel meat. The amount of European eel meat versus American eel meat in the five shipments that contained Anguilla anguilla range from a low of 6.5 percent to a high of 47.8 percent.

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Quick facts

  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that Canada joined in 1975 to regulate or, in some cases, prohibit trade in specific species of wild animals and plants as well as their respective parts and derivatives.

  • Through CITES, Canada works with over 180 nations worldwide and plays an active leadership role in international efforts to eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products, including by working with range states and destination countries to address issues.

  • CITES sets controls on the worldwide trade and movement of more than 33,000 animal and plant species that have been, or may be, threatened due to excessive exploitation and trade. CITES uses an international permit system, as implemented by national jurisdictions, to regulate trade in listed species.

  • Appendix II species are listed when there is a risk that the species may be threatened with extinction unless trade is regulated. Importing and exporting species listed on Appendix II is allowed provided the appropriate permits are obtained and show the trade and quantity allowed will not be detrimental to the species’ survival. Specimens to be imported into Canada must be accompanied by a CITES export permit (or re-export certificate) issued by the exporting country.

  • There is a legal and regulated harvest of American eel, which is closely related to and resembles the European eel. European eel is often hidden in legitimate shipments of American eel. It is only possible to distinguish between the two species by using DNA analysis.

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