News / Asia

Eels on Slippery Slope in East Asia

Japan is poised to declare an eel emergency, anxiously waiting to see if the popular seafood delicacies soon are placed on a “red list” of threatened species. That move would not, though, restrict eel catches. The United States is considering pushing international restrictions, however, on several types of eel and that could affect the global eel trade.

It's feeding time at the Gochang eel farm in South Korea. These fish are headed for kitchens across northeast Asia, where Japanese and South Koreans devour the vast majority of the global catch.

Eels, served fresh or processed, are rich in vitamins, calcium and protein. They are popular, especially in the warmer months, to combat fatigue and boost stamina.

The species preferred by Asian diners is Anguilla japonica - the Japanese eel. The eel’s larvae migrate from the Philippines Sea to rivers around China, Japan, and South Korea, where the species is overfished.

The owner of a chain of gourmet eel restaurants in Japan, Hiroshi Suzuki, said no substitute is as appetizing.

“The European or French varieties have too much fat so they repel the special seasoning sauce Japanese expect on freshwater eel. And the North American eels do not have enough fat so they turn out to be too crispy,” said Suzuki.
 
Aquaculture cannot replicate the life cycle of eels, which only spawn once in their lifetimes.

That is a challenge for aqua-farmers, such as Lee Jae-jung, a former nuclear power plant engineer, who has been wrestling with slippery eels for nearly 30 years and now processes 190,000 of them every year.
 
“Eels cannot be hatched artificially. Nearly all eels that are farmed come from the sea. These eels are hatched in the Philippines. We catch them when they come to the fresh water from the sea," said Jae-jung.
 
With the price for eel in restaurants and shops surging, one would think that the owners of fish farms, such as this one in South Korea, would be elated. But that is not the case. 
 
“When the price of eel increases, consumers tend to eat less of it because it is so costly. Thus we are affected by the slowdown in eel consumption. However, our operation is able to withstand the downturn better than most others,” said Jae-jung.
 
In the past year, high prices have forced an estimated one-third of the eel restaurants in South Korea and Japan to close.

Other restaurant owners, such as Suzuki, support restricting trade in the japonica variety to keep prices high.
 
“If the prices decrease then department stores and supermarkets will be in competition with us for the limited supply, and the eel restaurants will not be able to get an adequate quantity,” he said.
 
Some conservationists say even stricter measures are needed, such as banning all catches of adult eels and sharply limiting those of young eels. Otherwise they predict some of these eels, which have been around for tens of millions of years, will become extinct.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs