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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Fishermen Up in Arms Over High-Rolling Eel Buyers

BORDEAUX, France -- French fishermen are hopping mad, fearful that soaring demand in China and Japan for the small slippery eels that thrive in these southwestern waters will jeopardize the survival of this new bounty.

Sold for 22 francs ($4) per kilogram in 1964, the tiny elvers, known as "civelle" or "pibale" in French, fetched a whopping 1,500 francs per kilogram in sales last January, a mighty leap in just 32 years.

The baby "Anguillas" breed in the sea then slither up the fresh-water streams of the French south-west, where they grow until becoming big enough to please the difficult palates of French and Spanish gourmets, for whom they are one of the top local delicacies.

But over the last three years, local gourmets have lost out to the growing Japanese and Chinese market, with buyers from Asia, where the eels have all but disappeared, purchasing the vast majority of the French catch.

The Asian traders, who buy up babies for hatching, are ready to pay up to 2,000 francs per kilogram, knowing the stock can sell for twice that price at home.

But the swelling demand from halfway across the world has caused poachers to jump on the bandwagon and set the scene for eels on the black market.

On Feb. 13, after two months of fly-away prices and mounting tension between professional fishermen and amateur catchers over the slippery eels, coast guards raided 150 fishermen and boats in one night in the Gironde region to check the catch. A total 28 people were fined for illegal fishing and some 40 kilograms of elvers hurled back into the water.

Michel de Palacio, president of the local Fishermens' Association, wants officials to keep up the action against poachers. "It's only human to try and make some easy money when you see the prices going up and up. But us professionals cannot act this way, because we have rules and regulations to abide by if we want to continue to work."