Poor glass eel harvest in Japan leading to higher prices

Published on
January 23, 2018

The glass eel harvest in Japan has been poor and may fall below the record low of 5.2 metric tons, according to the Fisheries Agency.

The glass eel harvest runs from December to April in Japan, with the peak of the season in mid-January.  In 1963, the domestic catch of glass eels was as high as 232 metric tons.

The shortage of glass eels, or elvers, is expected to lead to high prices on Japan’s traditional day to eat broiled eel, the “Midsummer Day of the Ox.” In some years, there are two such days. This year, 20 July and 1 August are both considered appropriate days to eat the dish.

Current glass eel prices in Japan are JPY 3.6 million (USD 32,350, EUR 26,460) per kilogram, or about JPY 600 (USD 5.39, EUR 4.41) per elver, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. Mature eels are at around JPY 3,600 (USD 32.35, EUR 26.45) per kilogram. These prices do not necessarily mean that American eels will fetch the same prices, since the Japanese species is more highly valued.

Considering the high prices and low availability of the eels, more specialty “kabayaki” eel shops may close. In the last decade, half of such shops have been shuttered. Instead, buyers are getting cheaper eel at supermarkets, or having a smaller amount of eel on a donburi rice bowl at rice bowl chain stores.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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