June 20, 2014 3:49 am JST

Japan may limit eel farming to protect endangered species

TOKYO -- Japan's fisheries agency may place limits on the amount of Japanese eel that farmers can raise, following an international conservationist group's decision to classify the fish as endangered.

     Industry groups are concerned that the International Union for Conservation of Nature's addition of the Japanese eel to its Red List of endangered species may lead to restrictions on international transactions. The Japanese government seeks to avoid this by proactively moving to keep overfishing of juvenile eels in check.

     Japanese eels are captured in the wild when young and grown into adults on farms. The ministry will consider capping the amount of juvenile fish that farmers can use to stock their ponds, working from the three-year average through 2013 of 16.8 tons, which is relatively low owing to recent poor catches and is more than 20% below the 10-year average of just under 22 tons. Caps could be in place by autumn.

     Taiwan and mainland China, which farm eels for export to Japan, would be requested to implement similar restrictions.

     With fisherman hard-pressed to pull in as many eel as in the past, wholesale prices have roughly doubled from five or so years ago. If the government does adopt the restrictions, it could prove difficult for domestic aquaculture outfits to increase supply, leading to a continued rise in wholesale and retail prices.

     The IUCN's June 12 decision to deem the Japanese eel to be "facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild" is not directly legally binding. But the determination could lead to restrictions on international trade of Japan's most-eaten type of eel at a meeting in two years of members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Including juveniles and processed products, about 80% of the Japanese market is dependent on imports.