And it's far too many to be sustainable.
eel poaching
Credit: Rodger Jackman / Getty Images

In a page right out of Ocean's Eel-even, it seems that over a hundred million items of value are being stolen from the European seas. Specifically, eels. Yes, as unfortunately announced today in a statement by the knows-what-it-wants Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), at least 110 million juvenile glass eels have already been trafficked out of Europe and into Asia's eel farms this season.

Unfortunately, like all-too-many things that sound funny if you don't know too much about them, illegal eel fishing and smuggling is actually a serious problem. Last year, Food & Wine gave a rundown on American eel poaching, and how because eel babies, also called "elvers," are about the size of worms, they're easy to catch and transport to another location, where they can be grown into full-size, sellable adults that can be put on the fish market.

But in Europe, the stakes are even higher, with the SEC, mincing no words, calling for EU action to "prevent illegal fishing and trafficking of European eel before it is too late." Which is because the overconsumption of eel is threatening the species, whose population is plummeting, leaving the European eel classified as "critically endangered."

While the EU adopted a trade by in 2010, the SEG says it is not sufficiently being implemented by member states, and the evidence doesn't just bear this out, it's ridiculous. Of the last 140 million glass eels declared caught in France, only 30 million had been sold to EU markets, while, the group says, "the rest has vanished." And for everyone eel legally eaten, says SEG Chairman Andrew Kerr, 3 to 5 are trafficked. So hopefully for everyone involved, including the 10,000 job-strong European eel industry, the world will heed the Sustainable Eel Group's call and work harder than ever to protect the eel population from the unfortunate threat.