TOKYO, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Japan's Environment Ministry says it has designated the Japanese eel as a species at risk of extinction, although the move is not legally binding.
No restrictions will be put on the trade and fishing of eel, the government said, but including eels on the ministry's red list was done in hopes of increase preservation efforts
"This does not mean people will become unable to eat eels, which are indispensable to Japan's culinary culture," Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara said.
Rather, he said, the government's action is aimed at raising public awareness about the extinction risk.
"Relevant government ministries and agencies will go all out to protect eels," he said.
Eels are highly prized as a food item in Japan, but their population has been decreasing due to overfishing and loss of habitat due to development.
Government figures show the annual domestic eel catch has dropped to as low as 200 tons in recent years, down from around 3,000 tons in the 1960s, Kyodo News reported Friday.