Eel prices in Japan expected to surge again this year due to poor catches

Restaurant workers prepare grilled eel at a shop in Tokyo's Meguro Ward.
Restaurant workers prepare grilled eel at a shop in Tokyo's Meguro Ward.PHOTO: THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A hike in the price of eel is expected prior to this summer's "doyo no ushi no hi"- traditional eel-eating days that fall on July 20 and Aug 1 this year - due to poor catches of young eel this season.

The trade price of adult eel is about 50 per cent higher than the previous year, and eel-specialty restaurants are already moving to raise prices. Prices of eel dishes are likely to be extremely high this summer.

According to the Fisheries Agency, catches of glass eel, or young Japanese eel, have been low this season, causing a decline in the volume of glass eels that are put into domestic aquaculture ponds.

In the fishing season between November last year and April this year, the catch was only 14 tons, making it likely to be the second-lowest on record.

The size of this season's catch is about 70 per cent of the amount caught last year and is predicted to be the second-lowest since 2006 when data was first recorded. The lowest catch on record is 12.6 tons logged in 2013.

China and Taiwan also suffered poor catches this season, and the trade price of juvenile eel remains high, at one point exceeding 3 million yen (S$36,315) per kilogram, or three times as high as in the previous year.

Ninety-nine per cent of domestic eel are farmed. Most eels are reared in aquaculture ponds for about 1½ years before being shipped.

However, eels that were put into the ponds between November last year and January this year are being shipped after only about six months in ponds, which is also likely to impact prices this summer.

According to the Union of Eel Farmers Cooperatives of Japan, the trade price of adult eels per kilogram - about five eels - is 5,300 yen (S$64), about 50 per cent higher than the previous year.

In February, Yatsumeya Nishimura, a grilled-eel shop in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, raised the price of its large grilled eel by 200 yen to 2,400 yen (S$29) as well as the price of its second-tier unaju (grilled eel on rice) set by 500 yen to 3,700 yen (S$45). The restaurant is considering raising prices again next month (June).

Said restaurant owner Kiyoshi Matsumoto, 56: "The short supply of eel continues, and we have no choice but to raise our prices before demand increases in summer."

A supermarket in Tokyo sells a pack of grilled eel for 1,780 yen (S$22). A spokesman at the store said: "The retail price is likely to go up by about 20 per cent as result of the hike in wholesale prices."

The impact of this year's young eel catch is expected to have a bigger impact next summer, and the price hikes are likely to continue for some time.