(CNN)Two Chinese nationals have been given 10-month suspended prison sentences and fined over $8,000 each for attempting to smuggle live baby eels out of France.
Two Chinese nationals tried to smuggle live baby eels onto a plane
The pair -- a 20-year-old woman and 43-year-old man -- were arrested on Monday at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport en route to China, after they were found with some 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of the fish concealed in their luggage.
They were carrying juvenile eels, also known as elvers, in specially built containers with hand-held refrigeration devices concealed in their luggage, a spokeswoman from the Bobigny courthouse which handled the case told CNN.
The traffickers were also ordered to pay fines of €7620 ($8,497) and €7455 ($8,313).
The spokeswoman said that a third Chinese national had escaped from the airport, leaving another suitcase containing an additional 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of elvers.
In total, the baby eels had a resale value in China of up to €180,000.
The fish were given by customs to an organization which specializes in protecting the species.
A kilo of European eel can fetch upwards of $5,500 in China. This has led to a spike in smuggling in recent years, with some 15 million specimens seized in the European Union in 2018, mostly in Spain, France and Portugal, according to Europol. This marked a 50% rise on the year before.
The agency estimates that between 300 million to 350 million eels are trafficked illegally from Europe to Asia every year, a trade worth around $3.3 billion.
"Trafficking of the European eel is the world's great wildlife crime in both traded individuals and market value," said Andrew Kerr, chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group, a conservation NGO. Around 25% of European eel stocks are affected, he added.
Japanese eels used to be the main source of eels in Asia, but stocks have collapsed due to overfishing, said David Baker, a marine science expert at Hong Kong University. <