German customs agents release thousands of confiscated eels into the Rhine River | News | DW | 04.12.2018
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German customs agents release thousands of confiscated eels into the Rhine River

Authorities discovered the glass eels in checked luggage bound for Vietnam at Frankfurt Airport in late November. A delicacy purported to increase virility in Asia, the protected fish can bring huge profits for sellers.

German customs agents released some 5,000 confiscated baby eels into the Rhine River near Mainz on Tuesday.

Authorities found the fish in a bag checked at Frankfurt Airport by a 47-year-old Malaysian woman en route to Vietnam in late November.

Read more: Forty years of fighting for endangered species

Customs agents say the eels, known as glass eels due to their transparent state, were packed in water-filled plastic bags inside Styrofoam boxes in the woman's suitcase.

The woman will not face charges as the discovery was made after her flight had already taken off. with her bag impounded in Frankfurt.

It is unclear where exactly the woman got the tiny fish but authorities suggest they may have come from estuaries in southwestern Europe. Glass eels are a protected species and cannot be exported without special permission. 

Big profits with tiny fish

Whereas one kilo of eels sells for roughly €400 ($455) in Germany, they are seen as a potency-increasing delicacy in Asia, where the same amount of eels can fetch between €3,000 and €5,000.

Eel populations in the Rhine have been dwindling for decades and their numbers are so low that they have been listed as an endangered species. Although young eels are regularly released into the river, this was the first time that confiscated animals had ever been released back into the wild by customs agents in Germany.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Frankfurt Customs Investigations Office Spokesman Hans-Jürgen Schmidt said of the eel release: "They clearly enjoyed being returned to their element."      

js/jm (AFP, dpa)

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