Japan’s eel importers are feeling the choke, as rising prices and US regulations on international trade keep prices up. Grilled eel is a summer favourite in Japan.

Japan mainly imports eels form China and Taiwan, while domestic eel accounts for less than 30% of the 73,000 tons sold in the Japanese market in 2010, the Asahi Shimbun reports. Poor catches have pushed prices higher: the average price of young eel, imported live, peaked at 2 million yen per kilogram this year from about 600,000 yen in 2009, according to the Finance Ministry’s trade statistics. The increase in domestic prices tripled the price of imported eel to 3,975 yen per kilogram between January and May this year, up from 1,390 yen in 2009, according to Japan Eel Importers Association. Japanese eel imported from China and Taiwan costs 4,000 yen ($51) per kilogram, while American eel costs half that price.

The US government announced in April that it plans to regulate international trade to protect the fish, and will include the American eel and all other eel species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. An official at eel trader Zuisyou Food Co. told the Asahi Shimbun that, “If all (eel) species are regulated, eel will become a more expensive fish”.