Eel Breeding Innovation Sought to Conserve Wild Populations

Japanese biologists are racing to develop a type of food that would enable fish farmers to breed eels on a commercial scale using for the first time larvae produced in captivity, a step that could reduce pressures on collapsing eel populations worldwide. While farmers have long bred captive eels — a popular delicacy in many countries — until now they have only been able to do so on a commercial scale using baby eels trapped in the wild, a step that has exacerbated the catastrophic decline in wild eel populations from the Far East to North America. The reason, scientists say, is that it has been difficult and expensive to produce the foodstuff critical to the development of eel larvae: a mixture of marine detritus known as “marine snow.” Scientists so far have considered a wide range of possible ingredients, including the yolk from shark’s eggs. “Whoever gets there first has made a tremendous discovery; you’re recovering a cultural tradition,” David Righton, a scientist with the UK-based Cefas marine laboratory, told the Guardian. “Whoever does this is culturally important as well as becoming very rich.”