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Will 'unagi' vanish from the dinner table?

32 Comments

Will the day come, three years from now, when "unagi" (eels) vanish from the dinner table? The Standing Committee of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (referred to as the Washington Convention for short), convened on Sept 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It appears that the EU is backing a moratorium on eel harvesting and if it passes, an expert tells Yukan Fuji (Sept 27), then three years from now, trade in illegally caught or transported eel fry used for fish farming (aquaculture) will be halted.

Should such moves be implemented and penalties imposed on violators, it's still uncertain if they will have any impact in saving the eels.

Following large imports of eel fry from Europe by China, the need for invoking the Washington Convention was raised, and in 2009, the EU effectively banned imports and exports of eels. This, however, had the result of increasing demand for eels from North America, and the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) eventually raised an alarm, advocating that both North American and Japanese eels should be designated endangered species.

In September 2014, in a move to prevent overharvesting and head off depletion, Japan, together with China, Taiwan and South Korea, agreed to reduce catches of eel fry by 20%. This agreement, however, had no provision for enforcement and while Japan sought firm commitments, China adopted a negative attitude, and the accord seems doomed to failure.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, whose own fishing fleet does not engage in fishing of eel fry, has nonetheless become a major exporter of the fry to Japan through various shady dealings.

Associate professor Kenzo Kaifu of Chuo University, an authority on conservation ecology, expressed his concern, saying, "The current agreement to cut 20% of eel fry lacks sufficient scientific evidence; and on the other hand there appears to be no reduction in eel consumption."

Due to a shortage of data, the Washington Convention committee may delay its vote on proposals to reduce the catch. But the data provided by various countries that was used for the EU proposal is considered sufficient for debating future measures.

"The conditions affecting Japan's eel catch are approaching a crisis," the aforementioned Kaifu warned. "If things don't change and we aren't able to obtain the understanding of various countries, there's a strong likelihood that three years from now limits will be placed on the size of the catch."

Eels' life cycle is not fully understood. In huge swarms, they migrate to Japan from far to the south, near Guam. Efforts to breed them in captivity have up to now been unsuccessful. Due to overfishing and perhaps some other causes, such as changes in ocean temperature, pollution, or a combination of ecological factors, the number of eel fry keeps dropping.

Several years ago, a severe supply pinch led some of Tokyo's famous eel specialty restaurants, such as the Suekawa restaurant in Koenji, Suginami Ward; Yoshikawa restaurant in Tsukishima, Chuo Ward; and Benkei restaurant in Ueno, Taito Ward, to close permanently.

Eel imports from Taiwan and China have helped to ease the shortage, but costs have soared and low-budget chains favored by salarymen, such as Yoshinoya and Sukiya, years ago dropped eel from their summer menus. Hanaya Yohei, a Japanese-style family restaurant chain, also halted sales of "una-ju" (grilled eel over rice in a lacquered box) several years ago due to difficulties in securing stable supplies.

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32 Comments
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Should such moves be implemented and penalties imposed on violators, it’s still uncertain if they will have any impact in saving the eels.

I can just hear the Japanese fishermen's cry if the ban is imposed. They will attempt to find some loophole to continue fishing the eels for purposes of "research" and they will still find their way to the tables of people who are willing to pay!

10 ( +14 / -4 )

Hopefully in my opinion.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

a good time to buy stock in the one company in the world that can reproduce unagi inhouse!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

According to this article, eel has already vanished from the dinner table - at cheaper places like Yoshinoya and at more exclusive places that require a stable supply like Yoshikawa.

Why? Because of overfishing - i.e. Too many eels are captured, killed, and eaten. Reducing the number of eels eaten requires either a) laws with teeth and no loopholes for 'research,' or b) higher prices for eels. A will probably lead to B.

And because of climate change, pollution, and a change in ocean temperatures. No politician wants to deal with those problems; they'd be hounded by the climate change hoaxers so, higher prices it shall be!

Also, if JapanToday editors read comments so they can edit them or delete them as being Off Topic, do they also read their own articles? Such as "in three years from trade in illegally" Is this a new grammar technique I'm not familiar with?

14 ( +15 / -1 )

It's already disappeared from the TV commercial!

I hope we can eat eel for years and years to come (through sustained fishi... er, eeling). I love it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Rather sustainable eeling.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

So the best way is either buy typically farmed fishes that are sustainable like salmon, rainbow trouts, some types of flounders, etc, all farmed fish, or ask any local about the fish and situation in that area.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I never understood the fascination with unagi.

I never took to the taste of it. The taste itself isn't too bad, but it is slimey and just the thought of a live eel is enough to make my stomach turn.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Supplies of just about everything in the ocean are going to dry up eventually, even the ones humans find unpalatable. We're eating them up faster than they can reproduce. At least cucumber, egg and natto can be used in sushi rolls. .

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Folks, the decline in eels has been ongoing & KNOWN for at least 20yrs now!! Like so many marine resources Japan has vacuumed the worlds oceans devastating many species like tuna, squid, octopus etc etc.

Now factoring China with its increased wealth, its consumption along with Japans means extinctions, PERIOD!

Japan has been importing baby eels from China, Taiwan etc for decades now & every July imports full grown eels ready to eat, again for decades & only RECENLY they see an issue, a problem..........

DOH!!!

The decline of eel populations has been in plain sight like so many issues here, also like so many issues, the problem was simply IGNORED & here we are, surprise, NOT!!

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Super markets still have "unagi fairs" every summer. I still see Japanese TV shows doing specials about how delicious it is too with celebrities bragging about how they eat it twice a week. They occasionally talk about the unagi restaurants closing down but they never mention overfishing. Whenever I tell a Japanese person about their endangered status, they say it's OK because they can farmed, apparently not knowing that "farmed" means raising captured fry and not breeding in the case of unagi.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

I can hear the whalers excuses now, "see we have to hunt whales now as there is no unagi left"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I won't miss them. Or uni.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I'm sure the Japanese will be proud when their 'shokubunka' results in the extinction of the animals they love (to eat) so much.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

GW; good point but watch the J Press to blame China for the shortage a la Tuna stocks. Anything to deflect from personal responsibility.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I wouldn't miss it. I don't look forward to "unagi no hi", and having to eat unagi out of politeness to my relatives. They say eating unagi helps you feel cool in the summer months, I say turning on the air conditioner works better, and saves a trip to the grocery store or restaurant.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Well, since Nat. geographic predicts no seafood of any kind by 2048 (except jellyfish), everything seems to be proceeding smoothly. Pass the algae wafers, will you?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Associate professor Kenzo Kaifu of Chuo University, an authority on conservation ecology, expressed his concern, saying, “The current agreement to cut 20% of eel fry lacks sufficient scientific evidence; and on the other hand there appears to be no reduction in eel consumption.

He is a law professor. It is quite odd to call a law professor "an authority on conservation ecology". http://www.hit-u.ac.jp/hq/vol045/pdf/hq45_45-51.pdf

An expert should look at statistics. The consumption of eels in Japan has dropped significantly. http://www.jfa.maff.go.jp/j/saibai/other/kyoukyuryou.xlsx

This agreement, however, had no provision for enforcement

Any international agreement among sovereign nations lacks provision for enforcement. It is up to sovereign nations to enforce the agreement.

Following large imports of eel fry from Europe by China, the need for invoking the Washington Convention was raised,

Just tell Europeans not to catch and sell eel fry to China.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I doubt it will go extinct, the price will just rise so high according to the laws of supply and demand....

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, whose own fishing fleet does not engage in fishing of eel fry, has nonetheless become a major exporter of the fry to Japan through various shady dealings.

I could not verify this assertion in the internet. What is "a" major exporter, anyway?

There is a report called "Eel market dynamics: An analysis of Anguilla production, trade and consumption in East Asia", issued by an interested group.

file:///C:/Users/11001378.000/Downloads/traffic_pub_fisheries17.pdf

(page 15) More than 70% of Japan’s imports of live eel fry since 2007 have been from Hong Kong (where there are no glass eel fisheries), the majority of these live eel fry having originated in Taiwan (Han, 2014).

But, "Han 2014" or "Han, Y.S. (2014). Report on Taiwan eel outlook for 2014, Eel News. http://homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~yshan/subpage/article/20140905.html." cannot be accessed. They should have cited some statistics rather than an internet article.

I think it hard to believe that eel fry go from Taiwan through Hong Kong to Japan, rather than go directly from Taiwan to Japan. It does not make any economic sense.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Eeeeew ! Wouldn't bother me a bit if it did.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

kurisupisuSEP. 30, 2016 - 06:06PM JST

I doubt it will go extinct

I am pretty much concerned about eel conservation. But that does not mean everybody should blindly follow what conservation activists say.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

borschtSep. 30, 2016 - 08:12AM JST According to this article, eel has already vanished from the dinner table - at cheaper places like Yoshinoya and at more >exclusive places that require a stable supply like Yoshikawa. Why? Because of overfishing - i.e. Too many eels are captured, killed, and eaten

That is incorrect. The number of eels globally has been declining since the 1980s and the main reason has been the alteration of waterways through the building of dams and structures which obstruct upwards migration.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My wife's cousin is married to the CEO of one of the big eel companies and I have yet to see him stop taking lavish family trips and buying top of the line cars. It's all good baby!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Nasu no kabayaki is replacing.

I doubt it will go extinct

They already are. Not globally, just if 80% of places where they lived 50 yrs ago.

I think it hard to believe that eel fry go from Taiwan through Hong Kong to Japan, rather than go directly from Taiwan to Japan.

Wild eels do cross oceans. Those in captivity too. Japan has eaten up the stock from Italian seas

It does not make any economic sense.

They have crazy margins and that's not the point. Since regulations and agreements have already been implemented. If you want to cheat on quotas, you do it via China, Israel, Panama.... same thing for ivory or shirasu.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sure ,it just has to wriggle off .

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I doubt it will go extinct, the price will just rise so high according to the laws of supply and demand....

Kurisupisu: We have hunted plenty of species to extinction before, and the magic of supply'n'demand never helped them out. A high price can make the gains of hunting even greater.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

coskuriOCT. 01, 2016 - 12:16AM JST

They have crazy margins and that's not the point. Since regulations and agreements have already been implemented.

If you think eels are traded from Taiwan to Hong Kong and then to Japan, just give us the data. As far as I searched the internet, there is not such data.

Japan has eaten up the stock

http://www.traffic.org/fisheries-reports/traffic_pub_fisheries17.pdf

See figure 11 on page 25. Mainland China is the largest consumer of eel.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Mainland China is the largest consumer of eel.

And can you tell me the population of China? Number of eels eaten per person? According to figure 11:

~40,000 tn consumed by Japan (population about 120m)

~150,000 tn consumed by China (population well over 1b).

Nice try though.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

i love unagi, what else can i say? i wants it, and as long as i can afford it, i'll eats it. already most of the unagi is safely being farmed, just liked the fxxxing cows. whats the problem?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

CH3CHO

I suggest you read Dr. Kaifu's CV in the article you link to (or even better, his well written book, Watashi no Unagi Kenkyu). He in one of Japan's leading authorities in this area. I suspect the fact he "belongs" to the Legal Dept. at Chuo is more to do with budget and internal rules that anything to do with his area of focus. Law professors do not spend their days in waders trying to catch eel fry.

He is a law professor. It is quite odd to call a law professor "an authority on conservation ecology". http://www.hit-u.ac.jp/hq/vol045/pdf/hq45_45-51.pdf

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is one slippery dilemma.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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