The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced Thursday that it put the Japanese eel on its list of species at risk of extinction.
The Switzerland-based IUCN placed the Japanese eel in the second of its three risk categories, meaning the animal faces “a very high risk of extinction in the wild.”
The IUCN said catches of the eel hit a low of 229 tons in 2011, compared with 1,920 tons in 1981. Meanwhile catches of juvenile eel have plummeted more than 90 percent in the past 30 years, the group said.
The IUCN’s list is not legally binding, but the inclusion of the eel will be an important factor in considering trade controls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as the Washington Convention.
Japan, the world’s largest consumer of eel, is expected to come under pressure to restrict eel fishing.
Tokyo has been coordinating conservation efforts with China, Taiwan and South Korea, and the countries plan to hold a meeting in September.
The IUCN cited overfishing, destruction of habitat and prevention of migration due to river construction projects as main reasons for the species’ precipitous decline.
Currently, the European eel is at the top of the IUCN list as a species that faces “an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild” and is subject to trade control under the Washington Convention.
Japan’s Environment Ministry last year designated the Japanese eel as a species at risk of extinction, but subsequent efforts to improve the situation have yet to bear fruit.