Eels a Hot Topic in Tokyo
I don’t know why I’m always stunned by odd fish stories coming out of Japan. Whereas most world residents eat, on annual average, a few ounces of fish per day, each Japanese man, woman and child apparently eats in the ballpark of 1,000 pounds a day – much of that before noon, reserving afternoons for whale blubber and Big Macs. Somehow this relatively small country has managed to single-mouthedly eat most fish species out of house, home and existence.
And they’re none too careful about what type fish they eat. Many Japanese have ingested so much mercury that, on very hot days, their heads nearly explode.
I bring that up since the Japanese cure for hot weather – I assure you I’m not making this up – is eating broiled eel.
Interesting cultural note: When I look at my own personal list of things to do when trying to cool down on a steamy day, eating eel is -- let me check -- not to be found within my first 1,000 choices. (I’m really into lists, by the way).
Already lost to Asian history is the name of the person who determined, on a scalding hot day, that eating a load of steaming eel meat staves off heat and humidity. It’s not a long shot to suggest that it may have been someone with a load of writhing eels to sell, as the ice beneath the elongated fish rapidly melted under a July sun. Whomever, the concept struck a cord with sweating folks in The Land of the Rising Sun -- and eel-eating history was made.
It was a recent Playboy article that told of the Japanese fixation – and growing crisis -- with eel as a body temperature regulator. And Playboy should know.
Actually, I have no idea why Playboy should know about global eel infatuations -- and I’m guessing the folks at that magazine are not freely explaining how they ping-ponged between choosing Miss July and checking out the immediate availability of eels.
(By the by, I’ve only heard tell of this vile publication and the evils that lie within -- especially within the February and March issues of this year.)
Anyway, it seems that eels are the perfect combination of juicy oily meat and a dragon-ish look. They just love dragons over in that part of the world. I’m thinking that has a lot to do with the long-term availability of poppy plants.
Sidebar: While there is a standing debate over whether or not dragons actually existed, I believe they did thrive at one time but were wiped out when the Japanese realized how well they sushied up.
So, in recent summers, eel consumption has taken off in Tokyo and gone gonzo in Nagoya – and all points in-between. The soothingness of downing eel under a torrid sun is such that it has led to a critical eel shortage, albeit a shortage with a twist that can only come from Japan.
Yoko Tomiyama, spokeswoman for the Japan Consumers Association, points out that the eel crisis is the newest in a series of blows to Japanese traditional cuisine.
"The threat to eels this summer symbolizes a crisis we had chosen to ignore but cannot any longer. It shows, very cruelly, that the Japanese are steadily losing their food supply and also that money cannot buy everything,'' she told Inter Press Service (IPS).
I have to admit, that I, for one, was fully ignoring whatever in the hell that problem is she’s taking about.
And what’s this about the Japanese steadily losing their food supply? They have no frickin’ food supply! The rest of the planet is their food supply. Of course, they do offer a good dollar or two for that food. Arigato very much.
Ironically, one of the few things they actually try to grow in-country is eel.
Although Japan is far from a giant in aquaculture, the nation has taken to growing its own eels, from scratch. Apparently they don’t trust other nations to grow eels, fearing said nations won’t add enough mercury to the fish.
Interestingly, it was tiny glass eels -- baby American eels called “elvers -- unsanctimoniously pulled from streams in places like Tuckerton (and elsewhere, from NJ to Maine) that got the Japanese into the grow-your-own-eel mode.
Gospel truth: During the foolish phase when we were harvesting our arriving elvers to sell to the Japanese –forever destroying the local eel stocks by removing all the young eels genetically inclined to return to our creeks – those glass eel taken in N.J. were the most prized (for some succulent subtlety or another) in Asia.
And eel growing was going glowingly in Japan -- until now.
Get this: There is a shortage of eels because of a shortage of herring fry, which the Japanese use to feed the eels. It gets better. The reason there is a shortage of herring fry is because of a shortage of mackerel that they use to feed the herring fry. There is a shortage of mackerel because the Japanese fishermen have caught all of the mackerel in that part of the world. Thus the Japanese are blaming the eel crisis on, you guessed it, “Global warming.”
There’s also a worldlier angle to this Japanese eel crisis. The European Union – a group I really like and oft-mention herein – has pulled the plug on all eel exports to Japan, leading to jubilation on the part of the remaining Euro eel population. While this eel jubilation is seen as only a few random bubbles on the surface of lakes and such, all hell has broken loose among eels on the bottom. Rampant slime-fiving.
Of course, where there’s crisis, there’s profit – albeit iffy profit. Here’s a read from an English language Japanese newspaper. “Eel is largely a summer delicacy in the country, where the snaky fish are thought to provide an energy boost against the hot, humid mid-year months. But each year during the peak season, TV and newspapers highlight suppliers caught breaking the law in the rush for business.”
OK, I’ll bite. How does one break laws in a rush for eel business?
Well, what looks like an eel, crawls like an eel and sounds like an eel? No, not a duck. It seem that some ground-level rip-offs have taken to offering snake as eels. This is the first indication that eel tastes like chicken, which in turn tastes like iguana, which in turn tastes like snake.
Snake as a heat cure? Hey, now we’re talkin’. “Snake” just happens to be 878 on my list of things to ways to cool off on a hot summer’s day. It’s amazing how close divergent cultures can parallel each other.
There’s even some incredulous desert to go along with this gourmand tale.
As overheated Japanese squirm over an absence of what amounts to eel-based personal air conditioning, scientists at Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, (CIFT) Kochi, India, have developed an ice cream using cuttlefish, a.k.a. squid.
Yep, squid is the main ingredient in something CIFT is calling Maricream, available this month in Japan – and soon throughout the world, or not.
Maricream is protein rich, has a shelf life of a year or more and, allegedly, has little or no fishy smell. And for the Japanese, just the thought of taking in a few more fish ounces -- above and beyond their 1,000 pounds a day -- makes them giddy.
Once again, let me recheck my list. Squid as a cool-down agent? The closest I come is my Number 211: “Jump in the ocean and swim with squid pods. Practice emitting ink along with them.”
My first reaction to Maricream was to run out to India and give it a try. It was actually a statement issued by a CIFT spokesman that had me hesitating.
"Since Maricream is prepared based on the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control, Good Manufacturing Practice and Standard Sanitary Operating Procedure, precautionary measures have been taken at all steps of processing. Due to these scientific precautions, the ice cream will be bacteria free."
Hell, I should hope so. Now I’m wondering: I’ve heard of Montezuma’s Revenge but Gandhi’s Vengeance?
PUFFER POISON PUSHER: It’ s been said we all chose our own poison. Well, if that poison happens to be pufferfish toxin you might want to change that choice. Just ask Edward Bachner, 35, Illinois. You can ring him up at the Big House.
Ed was recently popped by FBI agents after buying 98 grams of tetrodotoxin from a N.J. chemical company. The transaction took place over the Internet.
He was taken down after a chemical company representative, having lingering afterthoughts about why anyone in Illinois would want that much puffer poison, called the feds. The agents quickly looked up pufferfish on-line and decided somebody should arrested. They tracked down Ed.
Check this out: The FBI became “very suspicious” when they found out that Ed had actually used an “alias” on the Internet. Geez, you mean that folks like DoMe-Girl, Manly Man and Alwayslookin might not be real names? That’s exactly why those agents get paid the big bucks.
Ed was charged him with a possession of a deadly substance without the proper permit. That begs the question of what, exactly, a permit to but large amounts of puffer toxin looks like.
I liked this quote out of the Chicago Tribune. “(Ed) Bachner is co-owner of a small technology company in suburban Chicago and was described as 'a great guy' by his neighbors.”
Short of that minor problem with hoarding pufferfish toxin.
RUNDOWN: How about those bunker? No, I’m not vicariously referring to the ultra-desirable gamefish we associate with these premier baitfish. I’m talking about the sheer number of bunkies playing atop the surface from near the beach, outward. Captain John Koegler, Pop’s Pride, talking of the bunker fields, said, “They were out there by the zillions and zillions.”
John credits, appropriately, the efforts by groups like JCAA and RFA in getting through strict regs on the commercial harvesting of nearshore bunker. And, no, those constraints have not ruined the bunker industry. Those companies are doing just fine working waters where industrial catching is allowed.
A 4.5-pound bunker was recently weighed in.
Bassing is slow to very slow. Some stripers can still be found near beachfront jetties, using clams or small plugs. Nothing big, though.
Not so for Tim Anderson, who took a 56-6 (52-inch) bass on Sunday by while trolling live bunker through the shoals, South End. It was taken aboard the Maintain.
Fluking is an eye-opener. The bottom around both inlets is often all but coated in flatties, all enticingly close to keeper size – but seldom there. A frequently mentioned ratio is 15 to 1 – which show how many fish are being caught.
GULP! continues to impress, to the point where some folks are even questioning the integrity of the stuff. If some of you are long in the tooth, you might remember 50 years back when some fish attracting plugs and juices were allegedly “outlawed in many states.” The exact states that outlawed the substance were never mentioned.
It’s a stretch to think a manmade GULP!-ish substance is sinister enough to be “irresistible to fish,” yet another claim of some 1950s super baits. Still, there is something above-and-beyond nature in the chemical slurry GULP! products are dipped into. Nothing illegal, mind you, just an advance toward irresistibility. By the by, IGFAS has researched the stuff and said it’ god to go when it comes to using GULP! while seeking world-record fish.
Email: “ I fished Sat. morning in the bay, at the base of the light house. I now know why they pick the no.18 for fluke, it was the amount of fish you have to catch before you get a KEEPER . I pulled in the 19th fluke and it was 18.5”. I also ran into a school of weakies appprox. 20 10 lbs in 2 feet of water. It seemed better to fish the skinny waters due to the amount of boats inside the bay. Jim G. Waretown.”
(Interesting, on those weakies.)
Despite some takes of kingfish a few weeks back, I’ve seen and heard nothing since.
Here’s a very interesting pro report from Seafood Charters
“6/28/08: Out today off Mantaloking in massive schools of bunker. No bass today under the schools, but we did troll up a nice size aggressive dusky shark on a large bunker spoon.
6/27/08: We went to the Barnegat Ridge North tonight and landed and realeased a 6 foot hammerhead shark with Mike and Chris Bodner and Gene Mancini from Philadelphia, PA. What I found most unusual were the massive schools of squid that we saw and caught quite a few as well. We got 4 major runoffs. Maybe bluefin???? We ere in 65 degree water and fished multiple spots on and around the Barnegat ridge with no bluefish. I marked fish and bait all night however. Capt. John A. Cafiero, www.SeafoodFishing.com.”
The lack of bluefish out there – bluefish central all summer -- is a lot odd.
As for those squid, very few marine species are as cyclical as squid; we’re talking all but absent one year and off the charts in numbers the next. They are very short-lived, two years tops. An odd trait, halfway through life, a squid’s digestive system begins to slowly shrivel as its reproductive organs grow, leading to a finale-like reproductive burst, then starvation. Definitely no need to exchange phone numbers during the spawn.
Event notice: FRIDAY, July 11, 7:45 p.m.
Village Harbor Fishing Club, Mill Creek Community Center, 1199 Mill Creek Rd., P.O. Box 1026, Manahawkin. Discussion on local fishing, followed by a presentation by Tom Fote of Jersey Coast Anglers Association, entitled “ The Fight for your Fishing Rights.” Guests -- men, women, mature children -- are welcome. Club membership is open to anyone in the Southern Ocean County Area. Information: 609-698-1430, e-mail VHFCinfo@aol.com or http://Fishermansheadquarters.com/VHFC .
TOPS IN SIMPLY BASSIN’ 2008: Here’s the final board for this years big-bass event. See shops or http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/ for full board details. Congrats to all the contestants.
1) Shawn Taylor 48-12 47 ¼”27”
2) Joe Filice 42-8 47”27”
3) Gene Slaughter 41-0 47 ½” 25 ½”
4) Jason DePalazzo 38-13 44”26”
5) Cindy Thomas 38-11 48”24 ½”
6) Steve Warren 37-12 45 ½”25”
7) Dante Soriente 36-14 45 ½”26”
8) Jay Endick 33-11 43”24”