OSAKA (Kyodo) Traditionalists determined to eat grilled eel on the Day of the Ox in the “doyo” season, long held to be the hottest day of the year, should savor their meal when the day comes around on July 28.

The doyo season — based on the traditional calendar — falls between late July and early August. Japanese tend to eat eel during this period as a way to shore up stamina for the heat.

But the wholesale price of eel has been surging to record highs, largely because of the double whammy of a decline in the number of young eels that can be cultured at farms, coupled with a drop in eels caught on the open sea.

“Because of the rise in eel prices, the amount of eel per dish may vary,” reads a signs at Unasho, an eel eatery in the Kanda district of Tokyo.

“It’s the only way to not raise prices,” the proprietor explained apologetically. Meanwhile, supermarket chain Aeon Co. has raised its eel price by 100 yen a slice.

According to a wholesaler at Osaka’s municipal central wholesale market, the average wholesale price of 1 kg of eel this month is expected to top 2,000, yen compared with 1,400 yen or so in an average year, and is second only to 1999, when the figure approached the 2,500 yen mark.

Last year, prices surged ahead of the peak summer demand months. They usually decline with the approach of autumn, but catches of young eel last autumn fell to levels of 50 percent or less of the peak figures in Japan, China and Taiwan. This kept prices high as another summer approached, bringing with it stronger demand.

Because it is hard to catch eel in the open sea due to its obscure mating and reproductive habits, cultured eel is much more common. Traffic, a wildlife trade-monitoring network, has issued a report saying that aggressive catching of young eels for farming threatens to drive the creature into extinction.

Noting catches of young eel are falling, Shikao Takashima, president of the Nihon Yoshoku Shimbun, said, “There’ll come a day when eel no longer is a food for the masses.”

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