Eel production lags behind rivals


Exports fall:
South Korea has started importing large quantities of fry from China and Hong Kong, reducing Taiwan’s market share to below 1%

  • Cai Zongxun, Kelly Majia / Our reporter, special writer

Taiwan’s eel production has lagged behind that of other East Asian countries over the past few years, forcing producers to find alternatives to what was previously a lucrative export market.

Taiwan, once a regional leader in eel production, has lagged Japan, China and South Korea in the number of fry it puts in ponds.

Taiwan leads the eel harvest season in East Asia, usually from November 1 to the end of February.

Photo: Tsai Tsung-hsun, Taipei Times

In order to meet the “eel day” in midsummer and supply Japan, eel fry must be released before mid-January, and Taiwan has become the best place to supply neighboring countries during the peak season.

However, in recent years, Japanese producers have begun to purchase eel fry from Taiwan at high prices to supply the domestic market, resulting in a decline in Taiwan’s eel exports and aquaculture.

As a result, the market share of Taiwanese eels in Japan and the number of fry put into culture ponds have been declining rapidly.

Japan Food News, a Japanese trade magazine focused on the eel industry, reported on April 7 that Taiwan accounted for only 1.2 percent of eel fry released in East Asia, at 320 kg.

Japan leads the industry with 49.3% (13,553 kg), followed by China with 32.7% (9,000 kg) and South Korea with 16.9% (4,639 kg).

Due to China’s recent success in the industry, South Korea has started importing large quantities of fry from China and Hong Kong to boost volumes, which could see Taiwan’s market share fall below 1 percent, the publication said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, eel exports from Taiwan had already started to decline. Exports have fallen every year from 2018 to last year, falling from 2,396 tons to 1,654 tons in that period.

July is the most productive month of the year, ranging from 182 tonnes in 2020 to 410 tonnes in 2018.

The hardest hit in fish fry farming is in the past two years, from 8143.8 kg in 2020 to 4430.49 kg in 2021, and only 877.33 kg last year.

Only 320kg were released this year.

Tang Qingzong, president of the Taiwan Eel and Shrimp Production Cooperative Association, said that Taiwan’s eel farming industry has been depressed due to high fry prices and reduced exports.

With the risks high, farmers are reducing inventories, making exports less competitive and continuing the down cycle, Tang said.

The solution to this problem is to keep harvested fry in Taiwan to replenish domestic farming ponds in preparation for Japan’s “eel day,” he said.

Guo Hongyu, a farmer, said he used to send large orders of eel to Japan, but now only sends one or two containers at a lower price.

Most eel producers are on the sidelines, Guo said, adding that his strategy is to stabilize income by actively seeking domestic buyers before pursuing more export opportunities.

Tang Xinyuan, a farmer who has just entered the industry, said that fry are expensive and it is not cost-effective to export them to Japan.

His farming volume this year is only enough to meet domestic demand and convert idle ponds to more competitive species.

Tang said that if he had been raising only eels, there was a good chance he would lose money, despite the effort required.

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