Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Catches in A japonica remain super low and prices extremely high

Higher prices expected amid plunge in glass eel catches in Japan

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – Catches of glass eel, or juvenile Japanese eel, have been extremely low this season. 

As of the end of January, the volume of glass eels put into domestic aquaculture ponds was about 10 per cent that of a year earlier, and the transaction price of glass eels was more than ¥3 million per kilogram, about three times last year’s average price. The glass eels will be shipped from next year, and a supply shortage and higher prices appear inevitable.

“We haven’t been able to catch glass eels at all this season. The situation is so serious that some people have stopped going to fishing areas,” the head of the Tenryugawa river glass eel fishing association based in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, said with a sigh. Hamamatsu is one of the largest eel production areas in the country.

Fishing for glass eels migrating from the sea is conducted at the mouth of the Tenryugawa river at this time, but catches have been extremely low this season compared to the average year, according to the association. In Japan, glass eel fishing is conducted in Tokyo and 23 prefectures, including Shizuoka and Kagoshima prefectures, from November to spring of the following year. Most of the eel available on the domestic market is farmed eel.

Glass eels are farmed in aquaculture ponds and shipped to the market.However, catches of glass eel have been extremely low across the nation this season. According to the Fisheries Agency, 1.5 tons of glass eel were put into domestic aquaculture ponds from November to the end of January, about 10 per cent of the 11.3 tons a year earlier.

If the situation remains unchanged, the total glass eel catch this season could be lower than the 2013 fishing season, which saw a record low of 12.6 tons. Glass eel farmers import the fish from China and other countries. However, “This year, glass eel catches are also extremely low in China and Taiwan. Some local exporters are reluctant to sell them in anticipation of further price increases,” said Takashi Moriyama, chairman of the Japan Eel Importers Association.

According to trade statistics from the Finance Ministry, imports of glass eel in December 2017 were 257 kilograms, less than 10 percent of the amount a year earlier. As a result, the price of glass eels is surging. According to a glass eel farmer, the transaction price is more than ¥3 million per kilogram.

“I can’t buy glass eel, because the price is higher than ever before,” a glass eel farmer in Kagoshima Prefecture said. Most of of the eel available at restaurants and supermarkets were farmed in aquaculture ponds for about 1½ years and then shipped to the market.

Therefore, the current low catches will not  immediately lead to a supply shortage or be reflected in retail prices, but it could become difficult to buy eel at a reasonable price after next year. Katsumi Tsukamoto, a professor at Nihon University, said: “The reasons for the low catches are not clear, but the number of parent eels is on the decline. It’s necessary to take more measures than before to protect the resources.”