Imports of live eels soared more than sixfold from a year earlier during the year through July to nearly 40 tons, due apparently to an acute scarcity of Japanese eels, the Finance Ministry said Tuesday.
Shoppers may be buying imported eels without knowing it because the fish is rarely labeled as foreign in retail stores, industry sources say, adding that consumer advocate groups may start calling for proper labeling of eels to identify whether they are imported or domestic.
Researchers are concerned, meanwhile, that a large number of foreign-bred eels might spread or be released into Japanese waters, possibly making it necessary for the authorities to take steps to protect Japanese eels, which the Environment Ministry has already decided to designate as at risk of extinction.
During the year through July, 39.4 tons of live eels were imported from outside the habitat of Japanese eels, with those from the United States leading the way at 22.6 tons. Imports from Australia were the second largest, followed by those from France and then Indonesia, according to the latest Finance Ministry data.
Eels were bought from Canada and Madagascar for the first time.
Imports of live foreign eels totaled a mere 2.7 tons in the year through July 2010 and 6.2 tons in the following year.