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Cultured Japanese eels threatened by extinction to be provided to farmers for 1st time

Cultivated juvenile Japanese eels to be provided to an aquafarming company are seen in this undated picture. (Photo courtesy of the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency)

TOKYO -- Some 300 artificially bred young Japanese eels will be provided by a government-affiliated institute to an aquafarming company for the first time, in a bid to establish a complete culturing cycle for the fish which are classified as "endangered" on the red list of threatened animals complied by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA), affiliated with the Fisheries Agency, is providing the juvenile eels, which were hatched from eggs in a cultured environment, free of charge to an eel farming company in the city of Shibushi in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern Japan island of Kyushu. The company will raise them for about one year, and provide the agency with data such as changes in the weight of the fish. This batch of eels will be kept separate from other cultured eels and will not be shipped out to markets, according to the agency.

The FRA became the first institution in the world to successfully artificially breed eels from eggs to adult form in 2010. It is now working to establish a complete culturing cycle without using wild eels.

Most cultured Japanese eels in the country are bred from juvenile fish caught mainly in the mouths of rivers and these eels are raised in ponds. The annual haul of the young fish, called "shirasu unagi," in Japan has plummeted over the past 60 years, from 207 metric tons in 1957 to just 15.5 tons in 2017. The species was listed as "1B" on the IUCN red list in 2014 -- a designation meaning it is in danger of extinction in the wild in the near future.

Keisuke Yamano, who heads the FRA center for the mass production of cultivated eels, explained that the agency wants opinions from the aquafarming company from the viewpoint of producers, and aims to introduce a complete culturing cycle "as soon as possible."

(Japanese original by Nanae Ito, Science & Environment News Department)

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