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

March 4, 2021 – Vancouver, British Columbia – 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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