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  • This is the most expensive fish in Japan.

  • In January 2018, a kilogram of these baby eels cost around $35,000.

  • That's more than bluefin tuna, and almost as much as the price of gold at the time.

  • But catching these eels is just the beginning.

  • It can take a year of work until they're large enough to be sold.

  • So, what makes these eels so popular?

  • And why are they so expensive?

  • People in Japan have eaten eel for thousands of years.

  • Restaurants like this can sell 40 to 50 tons of eel each year.

  • Japanese eel, or Anguilla japonica, can be found across East Asia, but overfishing and changing habitats have caused a huge decline in eel populations.

  • Since 1980, the global catch of eel has declined by more than 75%, which has had a huge effect on price.

  • Unlike other types of fishing, the majority of eels are raised, not caught as adults.

  • Young eels, called glass eels, are caught in the wild and raised on farms like this.

  • No farms have been able to efficiently breed the eels in captivity.

  • So farmers depend on the catch of young eels to make a profit.

  • Raising this many eels requires constant attention.

  • Michio has been working as an eel farmer for almost 40 years.

  • After the cost of the eels themselves, feeding them is the most expensive part.

  • Two to three times a day, workers feed eels this.

  • It's a mixture of fish meal, wheat, soybean meal, and fish oil.

  • After six to 12 months of work, eels are big enough to be sold.

  • Workers unload the eels and sort them by size to determine where they'll be sold.

  • Experienced workers can quickly tell the difference just by feel.

  • Some of these eels will end up at restaurants like Surugaya, which has been serving eel for over 150 years.

  • That high demand is part of the reason young eels are so expensive.

  • The final dish is called kabayaki.

  • It may look simple, but preparing it takes years to master.

  • Workers prepare eel alive to maintain freshness, but this makes handling much more difficult.

  • Workers remove the bones and cut eels to the proper size for the skewers.

  • Eel has to be constantly monitored while it's cooking to achieve even grilling.

  • Chefs steam then grill each eel three times, dipping it into sauce between each grilling.

  • Kabayaki presented in a lacquer box with rice is called "unajū".

  • It can cost up to $91 depending on the price of adult eel.

  • If prices are too high, restaurants struggle to make a profit.

  • In Japan, eels are eaten year-round, but consumption peaks in the summer, and it's become a big part of some local economies.

  • But the high demand has caused concern.

  • In 2014, Japanese eels were classified as endangered,

  • and because of low domestic catch, the majority of eels eaten in Japan are imported from China and Taiwan.

  • There have been efforts to improve the eel population,

  • like regulating fishing, releasing adult eels back into the water, and researching how to hatch eels in farms.

  • But the future of Japanese eels remains unclear, and the price is likely to increase with demand.

This is the most expensive fish in Japan.

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