Japan has been importing from China large quantities of European eel, an endangered species whose export from Europe is forbidden, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
Importers of the eels claim the trading is legitimate, with export certificates from Chinese authorities. However, the Fisheries Agency plans to ask Beijing to investigate the exports. The agency is skeptical of the explanations provided by the Chinese side that European eels shipped to Japan could have matured in 2013 from eel fry imported to China from France in 2010.
The European Union banned the export of the eel, which do not breed outside of Europe, in December of the same year after it was designated as an endangered species by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention.
If the Chinese side’s claims are true, it means the eels were farmed in China for at least three years and seven months. Eel fry are usually farmed for about a year in Japan, while the Chinese side insists the average period in China is two years.
But an industry expert says that eels farmed for more than one year tend to become hard and unsuitable for eating. Others argue it is unlikely that eels would be raised for such a long time out of consideration for economic efficiency.
The agency will ask China to reveal details on whether the traceability of the eels from farming to shipment has been properly managed, as it considers the farming period of the European eel imported to Japan to be too long.
“My guess is that eel fry have been smuggled from Europe to China after the export ban was imposed,” an importer of the European eels said.
According to trade statistics, 55.8 tons, or about 223,000 European eels, that were alive and originated in France were shipped to Japan via China from January to May. This year’s imports will likely set a new record.
The export of European eels to China increased in 1990s, but catches of European eels saw a sharp drop. The species was listed in Appendix II of the Washington Convention in 2009, as it may face extinction if no restrictions are imposed on trade.
Though species listed in Appendix II can be traded when an exporting country allows it, the EU placed a total ban on its export in 2010.