TOKYO >> 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 percent higher than last 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 and April, the catch was only 14 tons, making it likely to be the second-lowest since 2006 when data was first recorded.
The size of this season’s catch is about 70 percent of the amount caught last year. The lowest catch on record is 12.6 tons in 2013.
China and Taiwan also suffered poor catches this season, and the trade price of juvenile eel remains high, at one point costing three as much as in 2017.
Ninety-nine percent 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 and January 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, about five adult eels costs $48, about 50 percent higher than the previous year.
In February this year, Yatsumeya Nishimura, a grilled-eel shop in Tokyo, raised the price of its large grilled eel by $1.83 to about $22 as well as the price of its second-tier unaju set (grilled eel on rice) by $4.58 to $33.86. The restaurant is considering raising prices again.
Owner Kiyoshi Matsumoto, 56, said, “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 $16.30. A spokesperson at the store said, “The retail price is likely to go up by about 20 percent as result of the hike in wholesale prices.”
The impact of this year’s poor young eel catch is expected to have a bigger impact next summer when eel farmers will be selling this year’s eels, and the price hikes are likely to continue.