Unagi Day – or Day of the Ox – is a Japanese tradition concocted by the eel fishing industry way back in the day. There is now an eel shortage in the world – especially in Japan – where at least 75% of the eel from Asian countries in the area is eaten.
China and other countries might have more than enough to satisfy the Japanese habit, but to protect their markets the price of eel in Japan is ten times what it was a decade ago. Then again, eels are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species.
Eel (Anguilla japonica) has also been added to the government of Japan’s red list of endangered species. Besides the “whole net” policy that some chefs and restaurants are adopting – an agreement where buyers will take anything caught in a net by the fishermen – catfish are a great, sustainable substitute for unagi.
NHK World has bee running a sustainable fish story for almost a week now – and it’s great. Here is a link to their Eel symposium
At one point there were an estimated 3,000 eel restaurants just in Tokyo, Japan. Eels are really a traditional Japanese dish and they are indeed quite tasty. But catfish are also a sustainable and tasty fish Not many restaurants can afford at this point to even buy the eels.
There are lots of recipes for alternative fish to use all over the internet. Pretty certain you should probably stay away from farm raised freshwater eel that is not the same thing as an eel raised in captivity. From the wikipedia entry on unagi:
Instead, young eels are collected from the wild and then raised in various enclosures. In addition to wild eel populations being reduced by this process, eels are often farmed in open net pens which allow parasites, waste products, and diseases to flow directly back into wild eel habitat, further threatening wild populations. Freshwater eels are carnivores and as such are fed other wild-caught fish, adding another element of unsustainability to current eel farming practices.
Happy Day of the Ox! Maybe you should try some うなぎパイ – Unagi Pie or biscuits. If you really want an authentic touch get some real sansho from The Japanese Pantry And, let’s make sure something like Hiroshima never happens again, which is also recognized on August 6, 2017.