Eel is a delicacy enjoyed all over Japan Photo: AFP/File
national

Japan faces record low eel catch, renewing stock fears

29 Comments
By Miwa Suzuki

Japan is on track for a record low catch of baby eels this year, renewing fears about declining stocks of the endangered fish, a favoured summer delicacy for Japanese.

At the end of March, Japan had 8.8 tons of baby "Anguilla japonica" eels in culture ponds, including imports from China, Taiwan and South Korea, according to a preliminary tally by the fisheries agency.

That is a plunge from more than 18 tons logged at the same time in the last two years. The tally refers to baby eels caught in Japan, as well as those caught elsewhere in Asia and imported by Japan.

The fish are usually caught in the wild and sold to farmers who raise them until they are big enough for culinary use.

The fishing season that began in December will end in late April, and Japan's volume is on track to fall below the record-low season-end figure of 12.6 tons it hit in 2013.

Eels, known as unagi in Japan, are a prized summer delicacy and demand for the fish is high across Asia.

In addition to overfishing, experts say river dams, pollution and the draining of wetlands, as well as oceanic changes and parasites may be playing a role in declining stocks.

Japan's fisheries agency strongly rejected the suggestion that overfishing was endangering stocks.

"Annual catches are largely swayed by how ocean currents move... 'The haul halved' does not mean the stock resource halved," agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku told AFP.

Environmentalists have regularly sounded the alarm on the status of Anguilla japonica eels, with the fish on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "endangered" list.

"We fear further depletion in the stock," said Hiromi Shiraishi at Traffic, a non-governmental group focused on the trade of wild animals. "In addition, a bigger problem is that we think the current resource control method cannot respond sufficiently to the decreasing stock."

She noted that the cap on eels in Japanese farming ponds is fixed at 21.7 tons, unlike that for tuna, whose quota decreases with signs of stock depletion.

Eels spawn near the Mariana Islands in the Pacific and the babies travel thousands of kilometers toward East Asia in ocean currents. Their spawning process remains a mystery, and efforts to breed them in captivity for commercial purposes have been unsuccessful.

Baby eels are cultivated in ponds. The peak unagi season for Japan is summertime. Many Japanese believe the eels, served barbecued and basted in a thick sauce of sake, soy sauce and sugar, provide much-needed stamina during the energy-sapping heat and humidity of the summer.

Prices for the dish have been on the rise in recent years, and this season's low catch will only push costs up further, said Takashi Moriyama, chief of the Japan Eel Importers Association.

Even with imports of adult or cooked eels to boost supply, "prices will rise inevitably," he told AFP.

© 2018 AFP

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.


29 Comments
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Eels can not be farmed so when you rape the sea what do you expect to happen?

12 ( +19 / -7 )

Is that photo showing a man about to cook that eel alive? Is that not enough to stop people wanting to eat it, or do people continue to believe that intense pain and suffering improved the flavour? It's inhumane.

If they could bottle the flavour of agony, people would buy it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Relax Maria.

He is about to kill it, then cook it.

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Now they panic? 10 years ago scientists warned the eel population was in danger. And it's a Suprise 10 years latter. But I guess a tasty summer treat trumps science.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

Not a big fan of eel, so looks like my wallet will not be affected.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

You reap what you sow, and since Japan has only reaped on this issue and claims it's some kind of attack on culture when fish stocks plummet, there will soon be nothing left. They won't blame themselves though, of course.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

Japan's fisheries agency strongly rejected the suggestion that overfishing was endangering stocks.

Well, what a surprise it is to see Japan fisheries denying overfishing is the cause. These eels are extinct in a number of prefectures and it's been proven it's from overfishing. However, dams do contribute greatly to their decline as well. And, what are they doing about it? Nothing, of course! 'Modern' countries have created fish lifts and fish mazes for migrating fish to be able to travel upstream. Japan only seems interested in laying blame instead of addressing and solving the problem.

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Their spawning process remains a mystery

Given the economic impact involved, I'm stunned that no one knows this. Surely there must be some marine biologist who can get on the case?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's so funny Japan through a Zen philosophy believe they are one with nature yet gorge themselves to the point of extinction of a tasty summer treat? Make it a scientific reaseach program and they can circumvent the world looking for eels to eat. Its traditional after all

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Eel is is as overrated as Fugu.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The global eel population has been in decline for over 20 years as a direct result of habitat destruction through obstruction of waterways. Eels are catadromous and require unobstructed passage up rivers to reach their freshwater habitat. Waterway construction, the building of dams all over the world have reduced eel populations in Asia, the United States and Europe. While fish ladders for anadromous fish exist all over including Japan, little is done anywhere for catadromous fish. Placing blame on "overfishing" is misleading because fishing for eels, much less "overfishing" barely exists in the U.S. yet the eel population has been drastically declining evert year.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

OMG A disaster in the making. Having no unagi is like having no ramen,

If it is off any help. Here in New Zealand we have farmed and fresh wild eel.

Maybe our eel are to big and have a stronger flesh but we are always here to help.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

if you were not such a protectionist country you would import to keep prices down instead of raising prices to protect local fishers

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Japan's fisheries agency strongly rejected the suggestion that overfishing was endangering stocks.

No one would expect them to say otherwise. Facts are they have overfished practically all species of commercial fish. How about not taking any for two years and let stock recover without the pressure of fishing?

9 ( +13 / -4 )

Oh well

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is a serious issue. I love roasted eels and wouldn't mind flying to Japan for the Nagoya specialty dish. Wait for me.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Eels can not be farmed so when you rape the sea what do you expect to happen? just move onto the next species, blue fin tuna, whales etc, all disguised as a cultural right.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

@Arrrgh - "Their spawning process remains a mystery" - Given the economic impact involved, I'm stunned that no one knows this. Surely there must be some marine biologist who can get on the case?

It's only a mystery in Japan. The CSIRO in Australia have successfully bred eels. They have also created effective measures to get the eels through the dams in the river networks. Exporting eels to China is quite a lucrative business in Australia. The Japanese like to blame the difficulties for their failure, but do not look internationally for answers.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

Here in New Zealand we have farmed and fresh wild eel.

The CSIRO in Australia have successfully bred eels.

The Japanese like to blame the difficulties for their failure, but do not look internationally for answers.

In New Zealand and Australia, as in Japan and elsewhere, no one 'breeds' eels. The juvenile glass eels are captured when they come close to shore, transferred to the farms and grown up to harvesting size.

Eels spend most of their lives in freshwater but move to the sea to breed, at a depth of around 300 metres. Recreating idea breeding conditions artificially poses many problems that currently no one has managed to overcome.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I've only had it maybe three times, but hitsumabushi, the Nagoya style way of serving eel, is absolutely delicious. It already cost around 2,500 yen so it will be well pricey now.

Not that this justifies overfishing and whatever environmental damage intensively raising baby eels does, but it was one of my favourite Japanese dishes. That's all I wanted to say.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

simon G: "How about not taking any for two years and let stock recover without the pressure of fishing?"

B-b-b-b-but how would Jiro enjoy his summer tradition of grilled eel that he's been told he must enjoy?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Told must enjoy, love it. So true. Hay it's official it's spring don't bother looking out your window the government department has made a decree. I think it was 5 years ago the department of fisheries stopped reporting Tsuna catches as they were small, underweight and overfished...China's fault apparently. Never Japan's fault. All those Vietnamese workers are scouring rivers for eels.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Tuna next...

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Why people can't stop hunting creatures of the sea?

They will definitely disappear from the sea even if the kind is the one which is almost extinct or not for now.

I think human should pay more respect to other creatures..

0 ( +4 / -4 )

You reap what you sow, and since Japan has only reaped on this issue and claims it's some kind of attack on culture when fish stocks plummet, there will soon be nothing left. They won't blame themselves though, of course.

Exactly. They'll shrug their shoulders and say shouganai.

Now they panic? 10 years ago scientists warned the eel population was in danger. And it's a Suprise 10 years latter.

Cricky, that's how it is here, as you know. Same with the population decline. They were told of this problem back in the 80's and up until the early 2000s they could have done something but didn't. The Japanese response to all problems is to avoid addressing them until its too late. Then when there is no way of ignoring it anymore, apply some lame measures that won't work, and when those measures fail shrug their shoulders and say shouganai.

But I guess a tasty summer treat trumps science.

Ooohh be careful! You are attacking their Japanese culture!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I wonder how good is unagi? It seems they can't resist not having one. Why not just let the eel population recover for a year or two before harvesting them? Its better than having no eel in the years to come right? Then again, they might not make it through the summer if they dont get thier fix of eel, why not just eat other fish that would taste the same when cooked the same way? (I know, its blasphemy for them but come on)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japanese scientists found the breeding grounds of the eels in the Pacific and "exposed" the source of eels to the world... the rest of the world is taking advantage...

When there are poachers all over the world... and knows Japanese market demand... they will take advantage...

When the rest of the world learned of ther delicacy the eels represented... they started to consume more...

This is an expected result of the freedom of information... and the advancement of fishing technology...

It happens to all food sources of limited supply and of high demand... not just for Japan...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Many Japanese【have been made to】believe the eels, served barbecued and basted in a thick sauce of sake, soy sauce and sugar, provide much-needed stamina during the energy-sapping heat and humidity of the summer.

Many humans outside of Japan believe that air conditioning and sensible working hours provide much-needed stamina during the energy-sapping heat and humidity of the summer.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Cleo is bang on.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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