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Eel Industry Fights Back

TAIWAN - The eel farming industry is staging a comeback with the public and private sectors joining forces to regain market share in Japan.

The history of the industry in the region dates back to the 1950s, when Taiwan started exporting elvers, or young eels, caught along its west coast to aquaculture operators in Japan.

Japanese fish farming know-how was used to establish the island's first breeding operations in Central Taiwan’s Changhua County.

By 2007, eel was the nation’s No. 1 farmed fish in terms of export value, accounting for 13.3 per cent that year, according to the Taiwan Journal.

This was followed by tilapia at 5.3 per cent and milkfish at 1.3 per cent.

Today, a total of 2,313 hectares is dedicated to eel farming, with more than 90 per cent of production shipped to Japan.

Aquaculture farmers on both sides of the strait between Taiwan and Japan grow eels in large outdoor ponds.

In the mid-1990s the industry started to decline as competitors from Southeast Asian countries and the mainland made inroads into the market.

Beijing banned elver exports to Taiwan in 1994, causing the island’s farming business to crash almost overnight. The number of growers dropped from around 4,800 at the industry’s peak to 1,300 in 2008.

Taiwan’s eel processing business also suffered, with the sector coming dangerously close to extinction at one point. According to foundation statistics, in 2008 there were six plants on the island supplying around 2,000 tons of processed eels, representing a 97-per cent decrease from 67,000 tons in 1993, the Taiwan Journal says.

the Fish Site Editor

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