Please stop eating unagi.
A recent article in the Guardian, a prestigious UK newspaper that has an entire department devoted to environmental issues, has reported that eel populations across the European continent have dropped by 95% in the past 25 years. Sadly, this isn’t really that surprising.
Steven Morris, the article’s author, writes that “a ban on exporting eels out of Europe – they are a popular dish in the far east – is proposed, along with a plan to severely limit the fishing season and the number of people who will be allowed licences [sic -- heh].” Unfortunately, that is the extent to which the article discusses the connection of the eel’s dire situation to the sushi world.
The unagi industry is based primarily in China and relies on glass eels (babies) caught in the wild rather than hatching animals within the farms.
There’s not a whole lot I can add to my current entry on unagi. It already ends with “Don’t eat it.” I guess this isn’t so much of an update as it is me beating the same old drum.
I don’t mean to be preachy, but this animal is in serious trouble. We need to give it a break. There are other options. Honestly, drench just about any fatty, sustainable whitefish (I suggest Alaskan or Canadian black cod) in kabeyaki sauce, broil it or sear it with a blowtorch, and serve it with sesame seeds over rice: it’s gonna taste a whole lot like unagi.
Listen, I’m not trying to be obnoxious about this. I just am particularly passionate about this issue. The eel is an incredible creature, and we know so little about it. All freshwater eels from both sides of the North Atlantic swim all the way to one small tract of ocean — the Sargasso Sea — to spawn. For the longest time, we actually thought they simply incarnated from mud and weeds in rivers because we had never seen breeding eels. There’s still so much we can learn about this animal.
Let me put something out there, as added incentive. How about this — everyone who reads this post, please comment on it with your alternative to eel. It could be anything you want (but black cod, aka sablefish, has already been taken, so that doesn’t count; and no unsustainable items — that goes without saying.) I’ll wait ten days from posting. On the eleventh day (May 15th), I’ll take all the suggestions to Chef Kin Lui at Tataki Sushi Bar. He will look at the list of suggestions, try them out as kabeyaki-style dishes, and choose a favorite. I’ll post a picture of the winning dish. Whoever wins will receive a free dinner for two at Tataki Sushi Bar in San Francisco, as well as a signed copy of my book.