Illegally imported, critically endangered
European eel is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), requiring export permits and inspection upon arrival in Hong Kong, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance. So how has this critically endangered fish come to be on our supermarket shelves?
As with other endangered species, the European eel trade is connected to organized criminal networks. The illegal trade in mature eels is aided by the fact that eel species are visually similar, allowing them to pass through Customs’ inspections unnoticed. The problem is compounded when it comes to identifying processed products. As such, DNA verification is required to determine the exact species.
The lack of proper seafood labelling in Hong Kong supermarkets (including species name, country of origin and whether wild caught or farmed) makes it difficult for consumers to have an informed decision when purchasing. In addition to providing accurate labelling, it is the responsibility of retailers and suppliers to increase the transparency and traceability of the whole supply chain to protect our oceans from further biodiversity loss.
Since 2016, WWF has been tracking local supermarket giants that sell globally threatened species and seafood products. By documenting their existing practices and educating supermarkets about the impacts of their seafood sales on marine resources and our oceans, we seek to raise public awareness and collectively encourage them to set up a comprehensive sustainable seafood procurement policies. In fact, 90% of eel found in Hong Kong supermarkets is endangered. In addition to the 45% comprising European eel, a further 35% is the endangered American eel and 10% is comprised of the endangered Japanese eel.
The HKU study should serve as a wake-up call to consumers, industry and government. Consumers cannot implicitly trust items in supermarkets and restaurants to be sustainable (or legal!) without checking WWF Seafood Guide first. The industry needs to improve their seafood procurement policies and government needs to ensure enforcement of CITES trade regulations at entry/exit ports.