As is the case every year, large quantities of eels were consumed across Japan on the “Doyo no Ushi no Hi” (midsummer day of the ox) which fell on Saturday this year, even as concern over the declining catch and lack of transparency in cross-border trade raises more questions about preservation of the species.

Government data show that the consumption of eels peaks annually on that day as many people follow the custom of eating the popular seasonal delicacy — typically grilled with a teriyaki-like sauce — which reputedly helps the body withstand the scorching summer heat. That practice continues even as the cost of the prized delicacy keeps rising — the traded price at Tokyo’s central wholesale market more than tripled over the past 15 years — and the domestic catch of juvenile eels for cultivation falls to the lowest on record.

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