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Chowing down on invasive species seen as possible solution to environmental issues

A 6-year-old kindergarten girl tries snapping turtle soup in the Chiba Prefecture city of Sakura, on Oct. 28, 2018. (Mainichi/Yuki Machino)
This photo taken on June 13, 2012 and provided by the Chiba Prefectural Government shows an invasive snapping turtle.

CHIBA -- Snapping turtle soup was served to participants at an environmental event in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo, on Oct. 28, part of a move to use alien species, non-native to Japan, as food.

There are an estimated 16,000 snapping turtles in Lake Inba-numa in northern Chiba. The reptiles are an Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Japan and are culled for disrupting the ecosystem and occasionally inflicting harm on humans. It was the first time that the invasive turtles were used in a soup and served in an event by the lake, hosted by the Chiba Prefectural Government and other bodies.

The snapping turtles, killed after their capture, were boiled with garlic and ginger. "It's delicious. I want seconds," said a 6-year-old kindergarten girl from the city of Shiroi who went for another bowl of soup. The meat tasted like chicken and was plump with no foul smell.

This photo shows snapping turtle soup served in the Chiba Prefecture city of Sakura, on Oct. 28, 2018. (Mainichi/Yuki Machino)

Snapping turtles were introduced to Japan as pets from their habitat in areas extending from North America to South America. They grow to about 35 to 50 centimeters in shell size, and weigh about 35 kilograms. The Ministry of the Environment designated the turtles as IAS in 2005 because they are omnivorous and occasionally prey on domestic species.

Some employees from Yachiyo Engineering Co. construction consulting, based in Tokyo's Taito Ward, came up with the idea of using the turtles as a food source. Employee Takushi Yoshida, 34, commented, "I want to keep on considering ways to effectively use IAS, which were introduced (to Japan) at the convenience of humans and demonized."

In another case of using IAS as a food source, a fisheries cooperative association in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido has been shipping nationwide Uchida crayfish, originally from the Columbia River in the United States. The alien crayfish was imported to Japan around 1920 as a food source. They were raised in Hokkaido's eastern Lake Mashu, and spread out to Lake Akan and other nearby lakes. The Environment Ministry designated these crawfish as IAS in 2006 because they have a high fertility and prey on domestic species like marimo, green algae that grow into large balls. The invasive crayfish are a delicacy in France for their rich roe and meat. The Lake Akan Fisheries Cooperative Association had been catching the crayfish for 25 years. The group has increased its customers and even ships the crayfish as "lake lobsters" to famous restaurants.

This photo taken on Oct. 24, 2018, shows Uchida crayfish boiled with salt sold by the Lake Akan Fisheries Cooperative Association. (Mainichi/Yuki Machino)

Meanwhile, there is a restaurant in the western Japan prefecture of Shiga that serves a rice bowl dish of fried IAS black bass caught in Lake Biwa.

A representative of the Ministry of the Environment's IAS countermeasures section said, "It's hard to think of using IAS as food for commercial purposes, since they do not come under preservation and management." In a contradiction to this mindset, activities to prevent wasting animal lives are spreading in various locations across Japan.

(Japanese original by Yuki Machino, Chiba Bureau)

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