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Wednesday, 20th May 2015
In Japan Travel News,

Scientists breed catfish that taste like eel to save popular Japanese dish

The popularity of eating unagi, a species of freshwater eel, in Japan has led to a dramatic drop in stocks, but scientists believe they have found an answer.

Unagi has traditionally been broiled and grilled, before being served with soy sauce and rice each summer, but this has led to overfishing and an increase in the price of the delicacy.

Now, those keen to try the dish can opt for a more sustainable version, which is being bred by scientists of Kinki University.

They claim to have discovered a catfish that tastes like the unagi eel, meaning that diners cannot tell the difference and stocks of the endangered species have an opportunity to replenish.

A number of restaurants in western Japan are trialling the alternative throughout May to ensure that it meets with approval, reports Japan Real Time.

Masahiko Ariji, associate professor at Kinki University and leader of the team of researchers, told the news provider: "You wouldn’t be able to tell they’re not unagi unless you are told so."

His team have been working to find an alternative to the eels to satisfy Japan's appetite for unagi for around six years, with catfish representing the best possibility.

One of the main stumbling blocks was that catfish have a distinctive smell, but the scientists have managed to eliminate this through proper cultivation.

By feeding the catfish a certain combination of food, they grow to resemble the meat found in the eels, thus allowing them to be used as a substitute in the dish.

Catfish can be farm-raised much more easily than the eels, making them a more sustainable food source.

Mr Ariji added: "We're still at the initial stage and can only produce about 20 tons of the types of catfish per year. But once we make progress, we'd be able to increase that to 100 to 200 tons, possibly by next year."

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Scientists test 'eco-rigs' (5th September 2008)