AN eel smuggling ring, which illegally flogged €37 million worth to Asia, has been busted in southern Spain.

The organised crime group has reportedly been deporting huge quantities of glass eels from Algeciras to Morocco and Madrid to Porto for some years.

Ten suspected members of Spanish, Chinese and Moroccan nationality were arrested after the Guardia Civil found 364 travel bags carrying more than five tons of eels.

Europol reported that the bags were seized in Spain along with €40,000 in cash.

The eels were released back into their natural habitat.

Glass eels are considered a delicacy in the Asian market and are particularly popular in Japan.

The Asian market is struggling to keep up with local demand for eels, while external factors such as climate change and pollution have greatly aggravated fish smuggling.

Anguilla anguilla, the European eel species, was listed as endangered in 2009 and some years later the EU introduced a zero tolerance ban on shipments to third countries.

Despite this, criminal groups are still illegally transporting thousands of tons of the species, which have been proven impossible to breed in captivity.