Japanese Environment Ministry announced on Friday that Nihon unagi, or Japanese eel, is from now on the officially “endangered” species list in Japan. The eel was added on the Red List of animals ranging from “threatened” to “extinct.” This means there is a high risk for the eel to be completely extinct in the near future, just like other endangered fish species that live in domestic rivers or lakes.
The Japanese eel was placed in the category of “vulnerable” species only five months ago, in September 2012. “Vulnerable” is the first category that threatened species are ranged in. Experts think that the causes of the declining eel numbers are the loss of natural habitat, as well as overfishing. Japan is one of the world’s most important consumers of eel, accounting for nearly 70 percent.
The eel has a great importance for Japan’s food culture, experts say, so protection measures such as limiting fishing are mandatory in order to save the species.
However, the Red List has no legal authority in Japan, so the measures could easily be broken in the future. Japan’s Fisheries Agency promised to take protection measures, but as it is an agency that works for profit, it is difficult to say how many of the regulations will be actually maintained. China and Taiwan actually export large quantities of eel to Japan, and the three countries already begun to discuss about limiting catches.