The future of Japanese eels, which are a traditional delicacy for Japanese, is in danger. There is the possibility that the International Union for Conservation of Nature may put them on its red list of species feared to be on the verge of extinction.

The Japanese Environment Ministry in February put Japanese eels on its own red list. According to data for the IUCN’s use, the catch of mature Japanese eels has decreased by about 90 percent in the past 30 years. The situation makes it clear that the catch of Japanese eels must be restricted. Consumers must reduce consumption of eels. The Japanese should realize that they have caught and eaten too many eels.

Most eels eaten by Japanese are grown from fries in culture ponds. These fries have to be caught in nature. Artificial breeding of eels is far from a commercial application. Given this situation, resource control is indispensable. There is no doubt that indiscriminate catching of eels has put them on the verge of extinction. The Fisheries Agency’s approach, which relies too much on the initiatives of eel industry people, is lukewarm.

Strong restrictions must be imposed on the catching of both mature and young eels. Poaching and illicit sales of eels also must be strictly prohibited.

Consumers on their part should reduce their appetite for eels. In the past, Japanese bought eels at shops where eels were broiled, or went to restaurants specializing in cooking eels and ate them there. But around the last half of the 1980s, broiled eels put in tray packages started to be sold. This contributed to increased consumption of eels. These days Japanese usually eat processed eels that come in tray packages or that come with boiled rice in plastic lunch boxes. A business model that sells large amounts of eels with small profits has been established.

The Japanese should have second thoughts about continuing to eat eels as an easily available food item. The truth is that their resource conditions have greatly deteriorated. They must be conscious of the fact that they are eating a species on the verge of extinction.

To continue to supply large amounts of eels to Japanese consumers, moves have started to import eels from foreign countries including the Philippines, Indonesia and Madagascar.

But companies engaged in this business are irresponsible. Their moves may deplete eel resources in foreign countries. Imported eels may devastate the habitat of Japanese eels as well as bring in parasites and diseases.

Time has come for the Japanese to stop the large consumption of eels. This not only is wreaking havoc on the eel population in Japan but also may damage eel populations abroad.

Consumers should get back the sense that eels are luxury food that must be eaten much less frequently. People in the eel business should consider a new business model that can sustain both eel resources and the eel industry.

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