Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Wednesday, January 04, 2017: I got in some fine digging time this afternoon

Wednesday, January 04, 2017: I got in some fine digging time this afternoon, as I ready to return to work tomorrow. You’ll get some honey locust insights below. I can take 45 degrees all winter ... but that won't be happening in the near future, as frigidity invites itself in. Not as cold as that last cold snap, though. 

Video dig look: I had to bike two miles in to reach this spot. Here’s a look at a few of the too-many old milk bottles I find there.


I left the milks behind but still had to backpack a solid 25 pounds of assorted goodies, making the peddle back out quite leg straining.

It takes me a while to clean my dug items. I’m only about 1,000 pounds worth behind. I’ll try to show a display a few odder items during the upcoming stint of too-cold-to-dig weather.

Check out what's left of an old wooden barrel from back in the day when fish were pickled in same; offering a coastal feel to these local barrel straps. 


MISPLACED PELICAN: I haven't been able to get over to check out the out-of-place pelican that is hanging out with swans over on Lake Pohatcong in Tuckerton. I've been sent photos of the all white visitor. The big question for me is what is it eating. Unlike the swans, which can eat grass until the cows come home, pelicans are pretty much carnivores, preferring fish but highly willing to eat fellow birds. I've seen it plenty of times. By the looks of this large pelican, I'm betting it might even try downing a smaller duck. 

Oh, there's no guessing what it's up to. If I've learned anything from bird experts, it's the fact there's one in every flock, meaning there's no guessing where that one might turn up. Needless to say, this vagrant bird will get its off-course bell rung with single-digit wind chills about to arrive. Hey, if you want to rescue it, I'll see the story gets written. 

Mike Wallace
"My wife was able to get a picture of a pelican on tuckerton lake. She spoke with a wildlife person there who said it's very rare for them to be here at this time of year."

MOTORIST ALERT: The Causeway Bridge work has begun to go all over the place. By that I mean there’s no guessing when this lane or that might suddenly be closed. One of the trickiest/spookiest areas has been as the east base of the Big Bridge, driving westbound.  I realize there’s no getting through to the lead-footed yak-offs who must accelerate to 60-plus regardless of the conditions. Just stay at the ready for those numbnuts forcing their way into a just-set single lane.

I’ll doubly note that the NJ DOT has advised that lots of work is about to begin on the old Big Bridge. That work will surely impact westbound lanes. 

LOCO LOCUSTS: A slew of honey locust (HL) trees have taken over one of the dump sites I occasionally dig. It’s one wild plant … and not just because some of them have truly menacing thorns on the trunk and branches. The thorns are fiercely sharp and fully capable of catastrophically penetrating a human or animal body should a locust tree be accidentally run into.

Today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-zAAr6sUmY&feature=youtu.be

Oddly, not all honey locust trees bristle. In fact, of the 200-plus locust trees where I dig, barely a dozen, all close together, are thorny devils. Also, in the past I’ve come across HL trees with thorns that make these look wimpy.

It’s the seasonal bean pods of the indigenous honey locust tree that are a huge favorite among wildlife – and, formerly, Native Americans, who made a beer-like drink by fermenting the bean pods.

Local HL pod aficionados include white-tailed deer, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and birds galore.

I’ve often chewed HL beans pod meat. Very tasty. But don’t go there unless you know where you’re going, so to speak. The related black locust (BL), with similar leaves to the honey locust, offers vaguely similar pods that are so toxic they can put poisonous mushrooms to shame. The good part is you wouldn’t/shouldn’t easily mistake the BL pods (straight, three to four inches) for the much larger (foot or longer, often slightly curled) HL bean pods. Still, take some ID lesson before trying HL beans.

Here’s a weird Britishy video that manages to offer a good comparison.


As to taking a hit from a HL thorn … don’t. Not only do punctures bleed to beat thee band but I think there’s some sort nasty stuff on them that makes matters worse. It can take weeks to heal. I see, via farming websites, where other folks commonly coming into unfriendly contact with the thorns also attribute some chemical extra attached to the pokes. By the by, the thorns can penetrate many boots without batting an eye. 




Big Winds and Storm Surge Wash Lobsters Ashore in New Brunswick

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [CBC News] by Gail Harding - January 4, 2017
Jean Benoit says he never expected to see what he described as 'millions' of lobsters washed up on the beach in Val Comeau, N.B.,  on Saturday morning.
"I was driving in lobster," he said of his trip to the beach about 10 kilometres from Tracadie-Sheila on the Acadian Peninsula. 
Benoit and his friends routinely check the beach after storms but weren't prepared for what they found New Year's Eve, after Environment Canada warned of a storm surge the day before.
"It was incredible all the lobster that we can get there," Benoit said. "It was amazing. We cannot imagine what the wind can bring us, but it was too much."
The 40-year-old said that after big winds and storm surges, local people often find a few lobsters washed ashore. When he and a friend got to the beach on their all-terrain vehicles, the tide was very low, he said. 
He described seeing lobster, crabs and big clams washed up in stretches of 150 metres, then nothing for a stretch of 300 metres, then more shellfish again.
"We never seen that in our entire lives," he said. "It was incredible. You can imagine how many lobsters — millions maybe of lobster we saw that morning."  
The lobster came in all sizes. Some were female with roe attached, some were alive and some frozen.
Benoit said he and friends tried to throw a lot of them back into the water but the surf kept washing them back to shore. 
Not wanting the shellfish go to waste, Benoit said, he took some home to cook for a special treat. Other people tried to get some as well after he posted pictures on Facebook, but without an all-terrain vehicle, it would be difficult to access the area. 
Shellfish population not affected
Seeing so many lobster washed ashore got Benoit wondering what the spring lobster season would be like for the region, but a federal biologist said beached lobster are a yearly occurrence. 
But Michel Comeau, a lobster biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said a combination of factors can drive lobster and other sea life ashore: "if you have no ice, strong winds — especially if it creates a swell, very large, rolling waves, a surge — and this time of year, because lobster is kind of hibernating right now."
"So if you have all of this together, normally you will have some lobster on the beach." 
Comeau added that the majority of the lobster population is hibernating 30 to 45 metres below the surface. 
As for the large numbers, Comeau said, the lobster population is the largest his department has seen in many years, something he attributes to good conservation practices.
"There's a lot of lobster right now on the bottom, including small ones," he said. "The population itself is quite big." 
Comeau said Fisheries and Oceans has never seen a decline in the lobster catch after a beaching. 
Benoit said that a high tide later on New Year's Eve washed all the shellfish back out, but he and 10 friends enjoyed a good feed of lobster that day.
"I got myself a good lunch," he said. "It's going to be OK." 

Bizarre and Inspiring, an Iowa Family's Hog Farm Now Raises Barramundi

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Mother Jones] by Maddie Oatman - January 4, 2017

By mid-October, harvest is in full swing in central Iowa. Giant green combines crawl through rows of withered corn until well after dusk as Webster City's farmers hurry to gather their crops before the first freeze sets in. The stiff, pale bodies of dead hogs pile up in dumpsters along gravel roads, waiting to be butchered. Geese sail south in wavering Vs, and the maple trees on the banks of Brewer Creek flare crimson.

A few miles outside of town, in a squat white barn that used to house hundreds of sows, a different sort of harvest has kicked into gear. Grace Nelson, 22 and tan with ombré hair, stands alert, clipboard in hand, watching her co-workers hustle to transfer fish from tanks to a flatbed truck bound for Colorado.

Their neighbors raise hogs and cattle, sow soybeans, and tend pumpkin patches and orchards now sagging with apples. But five years ago, the Nelsons—a third-­generation Iowa farming family—turned to raising fish. Hundreds of thousands of silvery barramundi, to be precise. Part of a hearty species that's roughly the size of coho salmon and has flesh the flavor of red snapper, the Nelsons' barramundi start their lives in their native Australia. Seventeen days after spawning, they are flown in plastic bags of water to central Iowa, where they spend their adolescence swimming against a current pulsing through rectangular tanks on the Nelsons' farm. Barramundi easily tolerate many environments and have a flexible diet, attributes that led Time in 2011 to call them "just about perfect" as a farmed species. Once the fish reach nearly two pounds, they'll be shipped live to seafood markets and restaurants across the country, or filleted, flash-frozen, and sent to food distributors like Sysco.

The Nelsons' operation is so intriguing that in 2014, a pair of Canadian investors named Keith Driver and Leslie Wulf acquired it, changing the name to VeroBlue Farms. (Vero means "true" in Latin.) With the Nelsons still in charge of the day-to-day operations, VeroBlue aims to become North America's biggest land-based fish farm and the largest domestic producer of barramundi, raising as much as 10 million pounds every year—more than twice as much as anyone else.

Some scientists and ocean advocates believe we need more fish farms like this one: A 2015 World Wildlife Fund report revealed that half of all marine vertebrates have been wiped out since 1970 because of pollution, climate change, and industrial fishing. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, about 30 percent of the world's wild stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels, and research by acclaimed French marine biologist Daniel Pauly suggests the real figure could be more like 45 percent.

That's prompted experts at the US Nation­al Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Health and Human Services' Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to embrace farmed varieties. "If responsibly developed and practiced, aquaculture can generate lasting benefits for global food security and economic growth," the director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization declared in 2014. "Here in Iowa, they know how to grow protein," Driver, the president of VeroBlue, recently told a group of investors. "That's all we're doing—growing protein." The difference, suggests Paul Greenberg, author of the seafood bible Four Fish, is that when it's done right, aquaculture presents "a real opportunity to change the footprint of our protein."

How did a family from Webster City, a bucolic town about 75 miles north of Des Moines and 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, get the idea to farm fish? On a break from manning a booth at Iowa's annual Pork Congress in 2009, Mark Nelson—co-founder of the aquaculture venture, along with his cousin Jeff—noticed a diagram of a feed dispenser rigged above a pool of tilapia. His mind flashed to his family's barn, which had sat empty since the family quit raising hogs when the market soured the year before. "It just sort of clicked," he remembers. Why not fill it with fish tanks? Mark and Jeff, who at the time were in their mid-50s, spent the next three years researching aquaculture systems and retrofitting the sow barn. In 2012, they began selling hybrid striped sea bass to a distributor in Minneapolis. Soon, they switched to the heartier barramundi, supplying Minnesota restaurants as well as Hy-Vee grocery stores. (Jeff still runs the family's conventional farm down the road, where he harvests corn, hay, and soybeans and fattens hogs for market.)

The Nelsons were betting on math. They knew that one pound of beef can require six pounds of grain and 1,800 gallons of water to produce; a pound of pork might take four pounds of grain and about 600 gallons of water. But one pound of barramundi requires just one pound of grain and up to seven gallons of water. Because the fish's native rivers in Australia frequently dry up, the barramundi have also adapted to survive close together in billabongs with low levels of oxygen—as if primed to prosper in tanks. When fully grown, they fetch $4 to $5 a pound, while ground beef averages $4.20 and pork averages $3.70. "You look at that stuff and it's like, okay, this is a good way to go if we're going to continue to feed the world," says Mark.

The Nelsons are fussing over Jeff's broken combine the day I arrive in Webster City, so VeroBlue's Driver, an energetic 41-year-old with close-cropped strawberry blond hair, gives me a brisk tour of the barn. We don plastic muck boots and swish our soles in a milky antimicrobial mixture sitting in trays on the floor of each doorway. Inside, the air is hot and moist, smelling more like a damp forest than a seafood market. Down a long corridor, we pass tanks and filters that transform water drawn from the local aquifer—smelling of sulfur and red with manganese and iron—into clear and fish-friendly water. Water from the tanks is continuously pushed through filters where beneficial bacteria convert excess ammonia into nitrates. Most of the water is recirculated back into the tanks, and concentrated wastewater flows into a lined lagoon behind the barn, eventually bound for the irrigation systems that water the Nelsons' crops. (Unlike hog manure, this filtered fish waste doesn't pollute—there's much less volume, and the concentrations of nitrates are significantly lower.) And once the company grows bigger, Driver says, it will recycle virtually all the fish excrement into fertilizer.

The Nelsons bought this unique water recirculation system, called Opposing Flows, from an inventor in Maryland named Rick Sheriff, who back in the 1980s designed a simple, elegant setup that uses air blowers to simultaneously circulate and oxygenate the water. The current also churns up fish poop, creating a self-cleaning tank. Most enclosed aquaculture rigs rely on ozone and pumps to circulate the water. By cutting out those two elements, Sheriff suspects that Opposing Flows uses 8 times less energy and costs 10 times less to run than competing systems. And low overhead is key: The United States' only other land-based barramundi operation, Australis, couldn't compete with cheaper ocean-based barramundi farms in Southeast Asia, so it moved the majority of its production to Vietnam. Grace Nelson calls Opposing Flows the family's "secret sauce."

Driver leads me into a long "grow out" room, which holds two dozen 10,000-gallon tanks painted dark green to mimic the color of a riverbed. Teenage barramundi—11 inches long—cluster under the surface of churning water kept at 82 degrees. Banks of lights put the fish through six sunrises and sunsets each day, a trick to keep them feeding and growing faster. When the lights turn on, they know lunch will drop from plastic containers hanging over the tanks. Pellets made from ground fish meal, chicken byproducts, and wheat are quickly snatched up, helping the barramundi swell from 1.4 ounces to two pounds in mere months, a growth spurt that would take them a year in nature.

The surface of the tank froths like a gurgling hot tub, so Driver asks technician Joe Rezek to grab a fish so I can take a closer look. He stands on the wooden platform parallel to the tank, leans over the railing, and scoops out a football-sized barramundi. The fish is nickel-colored, with an underbite and a sharp, webbed dorsal fin that calls to mind prehistoric creatures. In the wild, barramundi eat insects, shrimp, other fish, and, according to the Australian government, even baby crocodiles; they've been tracked traveling upward of 380 miles and can live 20 years. At about five years old, they migrate from rivers to coastal estuaries, shift from male to female, and spawn. The fish in Rezek's hand flops violently before Rezek dunks it into an ice bath, where it disappears under the chalky slurry, a dark splotch that writhes for a moment before stilling.

Mark and Jeff Nelson say aquaculture is what kept their kids down on the farm. Grace, Mark's daughter, had been studying education at Iowa State University, on the road to becoming a teacher, when the fish experiment started to take off. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, hold up,'" she says. "I could see where this is going, and I was like, 'I can't not be a part of it.'" For Grace and her sister, Kelsey, along with Grace's boyfriend and various in-laws and cousins, the excitement and financial opportunity of a new industry beckoned. And unlike hog farming—which involves handling powerful animals, enduring the stench of toxic manure, and then managing a gruesome slaughter—aquaculture is mostly just waiting for fish to grow. "I felt like I had to shower 14 times before I got that smell off me," Grace says of hog farming. Now, "I can come in here, do chores, go home and freshen up, and go to church."

VeroBlue is hoping the Nelsons' neighbors will see the appeal of switching from hogs to fish. Already, about 150 local farmers have expressed interest in installing tanks in their barns. And in the fall of 2015, the company bought a 270,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Webster City for $2.5 million. The space once housed an Electrolux washing-machine factory that shuttered in 2011, with a loss of 500 jobs. With its "urban farm," which opens in January, VeroBlue has promised to introduce 150 new jobs in a town of 8,000 people. The company has started construction on a hatchery, too, so it no longer has to import fry from Australia. Scaling up, says Mark Nelson, will be key to the company's long-term success. Big-name grocers, he says, "don't want to talk to me unless I can produce so many thousands of pounds of fish a week."

That's a tall order, according to Randy Cates, owner of the first offshore fish farm in the United States. Cates believes land-based aquaculture alone will never meet the skyrocketing demand for seafood; he once compared the practice to "growing corn on a barge in the middle of the ocean."

Indeed, one challenge on a landlocked farm is getting enough water to make sea creatures feel at home. The Nelsons' operation uses a whopping 15,000 gallons of water a day. But Driver points out that much of that is reused to irrigate the Nelsons' cornfield. And luckily for the Nelsons, their water source, the Jordan Aquifer, is the state's most productive source of groundwater—despite the fact that farmers and businesses drew 24 billion gallons from the aquifer in 2013, more than a 50 percent increase from the 1970s. VeroBlue's new facility will include a wastewater treatment plant that will recycle up to 90 percent of its water, further minimizing its dependence on the state's groundwater.

In addition to the water concerns, there's also the carbon emissions associated with keeping water flowing within tanks day in and day out. Steven Gaines, the dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management in California, studies the environmental footprints of food. He estimates that with the current mix of power sources in the United States, land-based fish farms create half the emissions of beef, one of the most carbon-intensive foods on the planet. VeroBlue plans to install solar panels on its new facility eventually, but for now it draws its power from the grid.

Actually, it's likely that VeroBlue's biggest challenge isn't water or any technical problem—it's marketing. Elite chefs like The French Laundry's Thomas Keller and Top Chef's Rick Moonen have begun featuring barramundi on their menus, and meal-kit service Blue Apron includes it in its dinners. Yet most foodies still consider farmed fish inferior to wild seafood.

Aquaculture's poor reputation stems from a long line of mistakes, says Corey Peet, a former aquaculture program manager at Mont­erey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Southeast Asian farmers clear-cut hundreds of thousands of acres of mangrove swamps to make way for dirty shrimp farms. Domestic farmed salmon have suffered frequent outbreaks of disease and sea lice, and their waste often damages the surrounding ecosystem. And farmed salmon are typically fed large amounts of smaller fish like anchovies and herring—whose stocks are also on the decline. One pound of salmon requires the fish oil wrung from five pounds of these forage fish.

The barramundi raised in tightly controlled, indoor environments like the Nelsons' don't need antibiotics or hormones. They require a third of the feed to produce roughly the same quantity of healthy omega-3 fatty acids as some kinds of salmon. And recent innovations in the feed industry have slashed or even eliminated the amount of fish meal required to sustain farmed fish; Skretting, the company that makes the pellets used by VeroBlue, announced in the spring that it had developed a feed without fish meal. Other researchers are looking to nut waste, algae, or insect larvae as a replacement.

Whatever the challenges of farming fish, the fact is that aquaculture may be the oceans' last hope for survival. "We're now in a situation where doctors and nutritionists are asking us to double our seafood consumption," says Michael Rubino, director of aquaculture at NOAA, referring to the recommendation by the US Dietary Guidelines that people increase their seafood consumption to twice a week. "Where is all that seafood going to come from?" Rubino says. "So far, the choice we've made is to go elsewhere, rather than figuring it out at home." By pioneering the mass production of barramundi in the United States, VeroBlue hopes to play a role in easing that strain, though Gaines points out that it's going to take a lot more than just VeroBlue to produce enough sustainable seafood to satisfy our ever-growing appetite. Land-based fish farms in the United States produce only a fraction of 1 percent of the 7 billion pounds of fish we'd need if every American ate as much fish as the government guidelines recommend.

On my last day at the farm, Driver hosts three potential investors for a lunch of barramundi, as well as trout and salmon, which the company also hopes to raise and sell. One man, an Australian who grew up eating barramundi, inhales three cornmeal-encrusted chunks and admonishes his colleagues for not consuming the oil-rich skin. After plates sit empty for several minutes, awaiting the salmon and trout courses, Driver grows impatient.

He enters the kitchen and discovers the problem—Rezek is struggling to carve a piece of coral-colored trout.

"Where's the salmon?" Driver asks.

"We butchered it trying to fillet it," Rezek says sheepishly.

We are, after all, 1,000 miles from the Atlantic and 1,500 miles from the Pacific. But if the rest of my visit is any indication, it likely won't take long before Iowa farmhands master the art of the fish fillet.


Japan Attempting to Farm it's Way Out Eel Shortage

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [The New Yorker] by Joshua Hunt - January 4, 2017
One hot evening last July, I visited the Michelin-starred unagi, or eel, restaurant Nodaiwa, which sits in a quiet basement beneath Tokyo’s glamorous Ginza shopping district. Next door is the world’s most famous sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was the subject of a documentary from 2012 called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” The restaurant is now so famous that a sign, written in English, sits outside its entrance, asking visitors not to take photographs.
In recent years, less benign developments have forced Nodaiwa to place a sign at its entrance as well. Whenever I visit, I count myself lucky to find the following message written on it, in Japanese: “Today we have natural Japanese eel.”
The restaurant started serving grilled eel out of a timber farmhouse, near the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, about two hundred years ago. And through five generations of continuous operation such a sign was unnecessary, even laughable, given the abundance of Japan’s native species of freshwater eel. But, in 2013, Japan’s government added Anguilla japonica to its official Red List of endangered fish, after researchers found that wild unagi populations had declined by about ninety per cent in the course of just three decades.
At Tsukiji, wholesale prices for farm-raised unagi imported from China immediately surged to a record high of around forty U.S. dollars per kilogram, and remained there for much of 2013. Prices for the wild-caught, “natural Japanese” eels served at upscale restaurants like Nodaiwa climbed even higher, by as much as fifty or sixty per cent.
But the government had been late to recognize the extent of the problem, which had already taken a toll on many famous restaurants specializing in kabayaki, a signature unagi preparation. In March, 2012, a year before the species was declared endangered, the beloved unagi restaurant Suekawa closed its doors, after sixty-five years of business, and it was followed a month later by the popular restaurant Yoshikawa. Then, in May of 2012, one of Japan’s best-loved kabayaki restaurants, called Benkei, closed its doors after more than six decades of serving eel in Tokyo’s historic “lower city.” The restaurants that survived were buying eels for ten times the price that they’d paid just eight years earlier, according to one vender at Tsukiji Fish Market. The family restaurant chain Hanaya decided to pull eel dishes from its summer menu.
For other types of seafood, farm-raised stocks remain relatively stable when wild catches decline. But unagi, which hatch at sea but mature in freshwater, cannot be effectively bred in captivity, so farm-raised stocks rely on young eels, known as glass eels, which are harvested at sea, then raised to maturity at eel farms in China, Korea, and Japan.
Overfishing of the glass eel is, undoubtedly, the source of the problem. Each year, Japanese people eat more than a hundred thousand tons of eel, which usually amounts to about seventy-five per cent of the total global catch. Roughly half of that annual eel consumption takes place during the summer months, when Japanese tradition holds that the nourishing unagi helps maintain one’s stamina against the withering heat. Eric Rath, a history professor at the University of Kansas who specializes in Japan’s culinary traditions, told me that this belief is “an idea that comes from the eighth-century ‘Collection of Myriad Leaves,’ the earliest collection of Japanese poetry and Japan’s most esteemed locus classicus for customs.” Grilled eel is so strongly identified with the midsummer months that it is the official food of a national holiday called the Day of the Ox.
The crisis brought on by diminishing unagi catches is, therefore, multilayered: an environmental crisis for the endangered species and its habitat, a financial crisis for the centuries-old unagi industry, and a cultural crisis for the Japanese public.
Scientists began researching the problem decades ago, long before the public could imagine unagi’s designation as an endangered species. At Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency, Hideki Tanaka has made some of the most significant breakthroughs in understanding the life cycle of unagi, but not without time-consuming setbacks: Tanaka’s team spent twelve years learning how to hatch artificially inseminated glass eels and keep them alive, only to find that all of the eels brought to maturity under laboratory conditions became males. The problem was eventually overcome by manipulating hormone levels in the animals’ feed, but this presented an obvious obstacle to controlled breeding. And with other obstacles preventing the widespread adoption of controlled breeding, some researchers are looking elsewhere for solutions.
In late 2015, a university in Osaka announced a new effort to deal with the eel shortage. It was farming catfish with the aim of marketing it as a replacement for kabayaki eel, the most popular unagi preparation, which is made by slowly grilling cleaned and skewered eel over charcoal, dipping it repeatedly in a sweet and savory marinade made from soy sauce and mirin. In Tokyo, this preparation is typically served over rice with a light dusting of the powdered Japanese pepper called sansho.
Then, in the summer of 2016, a popular daytime variety program invited a celebrity chef to show viewers how they could prepare kabayaki using freshwater fish as a substitute for unagi. “Maybe we don’t need to eat eel after all,” one presenter said as he tucked into his plate. Just a few months later, in September, the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species convened in South Africa, where the prevailing mood suggested that the European Union may back a moratorium on eel harvesting, which could take effect in three years if it passes. This could, in theory, restrict the flow of European glass eels to Chinese farms that raise eels primarily for the Japanese market. But it’s hard to imagine that such a move would accomplish much more than increasing demand for glass eels caught in the U.S., where, in 2013, Maine fisherman caught eighteen thousand pounds of the tiny creatures for export to Asia, bringing in about thirty-three million dollars.
Then there’s the matter of illegally harvested and traded specimens. Last April, a report by the Japanese news agency Kyodo claimed that Japan was circumventing regulations meant to curb overfishing by importing vast quantities of glass eels from Hong Kong. And, despite broad public curiosity about unagi alternatives, Tokyo supermarkets reported that sales of prepared kabayaki meals climbed ten per cent year-on-year last July, despite the fact that one of the most popular retailers had raised its prices by about three U.S. dollars per serving.
The Day of the Ox fell on July 30th in 2016, and for weeks beforehand the convenience stores and supermarkets in my west Tokyo neighborhood distributed full-color flyers advertising various kabayaki sets that could be ordered in advance for between ten and thirty U.S. dollars. One such advertisement declared unagi “the irresistible flavor of summer.” Though I had not been able to resist my annual visit to Nodaiwa earlier in the summer, I opted for a less traditional meal on the day when unagi consumption reaches its peak: for the first time, I celebrated the Day of the Ox with catfish kabayaki. Although it is popular as a summer dish, unagi is actually at its most delicious in December, after it has grown fatter to protect itself against the cold of winter. And despite my willingness to experiment with substitutes, there’s nothing like the real thing when the real thing is at its best. So, when I arrive in Tokyo for the holidays after several months away, I have no doubt that I will head straight to Nodaiwa, as usual. The sign out front will tell me everything I need to k

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