Latest News

Thursday, 27th June 2013
In General Japan News,

Rising cost of eels cause Japan's restaurants to shut down

Unagi or freshwater eel is considered a delicacy in Japan, so much so that a day has been dedicated to eating the fish, but fans may be paying through the nose to get a taste of their favourite dish. 

Doyo no Ushi is held on July 22nd and is traditionally the day Japan celebrates eating eels, although short supply is forcing prices ever higher. 

This year the cost of young eels has risen for the fourth consecutive time and is expected to be higher than last year's record-breaking price of 2.14 million yen per kilogram. 

Rising prices are forcing many restaurants serving the delicacy to close down. The Unagi kabayaki traders' association reports that there were 130 restaurants selling freshwater eels in 2003 in Tokyo. That number has now declined to just 95. 

In 2012, the Economist reported that wholesale prices had doubled and it quoted the manager of a well-known eel restaurant as suggesting that the situation was unsustainable.

Danzo Yamamoto, manager of Unatetsu, said: "We can't pass on that sort of price rise to our customers, so we've been forced to absorb most of it ourselves. But how long can we do that for?"

The publication reported that Japanese wholesalers are now travelling outside the country in a desperate bid to get hold of eels. Madagascar, Indonesia and the Philippines are all popular destinations for those seeking the slippery fish. 

There is concern about overfishing of eels from other countries and America has asked that varieties should be put on a list of endangered species. Japan has a voracious appetite for eels and it consumes approximately 70 per cent of the global catch. 

It's not just wild eels that are causing concern though, as farmed varieties make up the majority of the fish eaten in Japan. 

Animal welfare site, Animal Planet, suggests that consumers should avoid eating eels altogether. It states that "farming can cause serious environmental pollution, as waste from net pens and ponds are not treated for discharge". 

Perhaps eel eating will not completely die out in Japan, but the cost is certainly becoming prohibitive for many.