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Annual eel-eating day becomes increasingly pricey treat in Japan

News Desk

Kyodo News

Tokyo  /  Fri, July 20, 2018  /  04:30 pm
Annual eel-eating day becomes increasingly pricey treat in Japan

Amid heightened concern over the depletion of the population of Japanese eels, which were designated as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2014, debate over tradition versus conservation continues. (Shutterstock/File)

As people in Japan treated themselves to grilled eels on eel-eating day Friday, many were faced with a larger bill amid soaring prices for the endangered fish.

The domestic catch of juvenile eels for cultivation dropped this season to the second-lowest level since records began being kept in 1982, leading to a rise in the wholesale price of grown eels by about 30 percent from a year ago.

On what is traditionally referred to as the "day of the ox" in summer, which falls twice this year, on Friday and Aug. 1, many people in Japan eat eel, typically grilled with sweet soy sauce, to honor an old saying which promotes the consumption of eel to help the body withstand the summer heat.

Waiting in line for Kawatoyo, a well-established eel restaurant near Naritasan Shinshoji temple in Chiba Prefecture, to open at 10 a.m., 40-year-old Takanori Matsushima said, "I love eel and I always eat it on the day of the ox, even if it is a little more expensive than before."

Amid heightened concern over the depletion of the population of Japanese eels, which were designated as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2014, debate over tradition versus conservation continues.

While stressing the significance of the eel-eating day in Japanese food culture, farm minister Ken Saito acknowledged the need to preserve eel resources.

"We need to deal with concerns over the depletion of (eel) resources," said the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. "This is a challenging issue. Japan needs to make efforts on this, and we also need to promote international cooperation."

Read also: Sushi University seeks to educate patrons on Japanese food

According to the Fisheries Agency, the domestic catch of glass eels for cultivation from November 2017 to May was 8.9 tons, down from last season's 15.4 tons.

The average wholesale price of adult eels in May was 5,378 yen per kilogram, about 1.3 times that of the previous year, according to statistics released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market.

The Maruetsu supermarket chain was selling broiled domestic eel for 1,980 yen ($18) each in Tokyo, up from last summer's 1,680 yen but around the same as in 2016.

"Thankfully we managed to secure good quality eels," a salesperson at the supermarket said.

Meanwhile at Japanese restaurant chains Ootoya Gohan Dokoro and Yumean, where eel rice bowls were served at about 2,000 yen in the past, prices have been raised by about 500 yen. The dish will be taken off the menu once the stores' eel stock runs out.

"It remains uncertain if we will be able to continue to provide this dish in the future," a spokesperson from Ootoya said. "We simply can't swim against the tide of protecting marine resources."

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