Sources from the Japanese government’s Environment Ministry stated on Thursday that the Japanese eel will added to its Red List of animal species that aren’t yet endangered, but threatened. Catches of the species have been noticeably low in recent years, so it will be designated as “vulnerable,” which is the lowest of three categories, including “critically endangered” and “endangered,” identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Interestingly, the labeling of the Japanese eel doesn’t enforce any legal restriction on catches or trades, so it’s not really clear how the species will grow, if that is what the Environment Ministry wants to happen.
Just like with most animals becoming endangered in the world, the ministry believes the eels’ shrinking numbers are caused by the deterioration of habitat and pollution, in combination with overfishing. To be seen as “vulnerable,” an animal species’ population must experience a 30% decline, either within 10 years or three generations, and the cause of the decline has not stopped.
The government’s records show that yearly catches of young eels to be used for farming have been at about 10 tons recently, whereas in the 1960s it peaked at around 230 tons. Catches for adult eels once stood at 3,400 tons in the ’60s, but are now at less than 200 tons per year. Some marine animal experts have called for a ban on catching adult eels and tight limits on young eels until the populations numbers start to rise. At the very end of August, the Environment Ministry declared the Japanese river otter extinct after 30 years without a sighting.