Catches of Japanese eel fry have been poor nationwide since the fishing season started in December, with some places recording more than four-decade lows, fishery officials said Thursday.
This may lead to an unprecedented fourth straight year of poor hauls of young eel, they said.
The Japanese eel was designated last week as a species at risk of extinction on the Environment Ministry’s red list of endangered freshwater and brackish water fishes.
Prices of imported young eel from Taiwan have remained high at more than ¥2 million per kilogram and there are fears they will surge during the summer’s consumption season.
Japan relies on young eels caught at river mouths to produce farm-raised eels to meet its ravenous appetite for broiled eel, eaten mainly in the summer.
Calls for a ban on the fishing of adult eels and for a cut in the number of young eels caught may gain ground to conserve eel resources, the officials said.
The prefectural government of Kagoshima, the biggest producer of farmed eel in Japan, said catches of young eel in December and January totaled only 32 kg, the lowest figure since 1971 and down sharply from the 120 kg caught a year earlier.
The volume of young eel catches in December in Aichi Prefecture, the second-biggest producer after Kagoshima, stood at zero.
Catches of young eel in Miyazaki Prefecture, which ranks third, stood at only 60 kg since December, half the amount caught a year earlier.
Catches were also poor in Chiba, Mie, Kochi and Tokushima prefectures, the officials said, adding the total amount of young eels put into aquaculture ponds across the nation by late January, including those imported from Taiwan, had fallen to less than half of the same period a year earlier, which saw an all-time low amount of such eels.
Japanese eels are known to spawn in the Pacific near Guam from May to August, with the young being carried north to various parts of East Asia that include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.
Broiled eel is popular in Japan and 99 percent of eels sold in Japanese markets are farm-raised.
Experts have attributed the drastic decline of the wild Japanese eel catch to overfishing and environmental damage to rivers.