National Geographic : 2010 Sep
in the heat, and Doyo Ushi No Hi, eel day, usu- ally falls in late July. During that month in 2009 at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji seafood market, more than 111,500 pounds of fresh eel were sold. Eel is almost always eaten in eel-only restaurants, because of the di culty in cleaning and cook- ing the sh. It is never served raw: e blood contains a neurotoxin that's neutralized when cooked or hot smoked. (A tiny amount of eel- blood serum injected into a rabbit causes instant convulsions and death.) e eel is grilled on bamboo skewers over a hot wood re, repeatedly dipped in water, and returned to the re to steam the meat. en it's glazed with a sauce of soy, mirin (sweet rice wine), and sugar and sprinkled with sansho, mountain pepper. is dish, most o en a sin- gle eel split and splayed over a bed of rice in a black, lacquered box with a red interior, is called unaju. No part of the sh goes to waste. e liver is served in a soup, and the spine is deep- fried and eaten like a cracker. ough it may be part of Japan's food folklore, it is said that in Tokyo the eel is lleted along the back to avoid mimicking the samurai warrior's ritual knife- in-the-belly suicide. In Kyoto, where there were fewer samurai, it is lleted along the belly. Kyoto people say that the women in their city have such beautiful skin because they eat plenty of eel. Indeed, the meat is high in vitamins A and E, and because of its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, it has been found to help prevent type 2 diabetes. An eel served in a restaurant in Manhattan may have hatched in the Atlantic Ocean, been netted in a river mouth in the Basque region of France, own to Hong Kong, raised at a farm in nearby Fujian or Guangdong Provinces, cleaned, grilled, and packaged in factories near the farms, and nally own to New York City. Readying eels for market usually involves catching babies---called glass eels because of their transparency---when they arrive in fresh water from the ocean and shipping them to warehouse-style farms in China for fattening up. e trade remains dependent on the capture of wild sh because no one has figured out how to reproduce eels profitably in captivity. . . , when aquacul- ture farms were burgeoning in China, eel shing to supply the Asian market went on pell-mell from January through June in every East Coast state. Pat Bryant of Nobleboro, Maine, was one of the rst in the state to catch glass eels for export to China. By day she ran a hairdressing salon in the coastal town of Damariscotta, and at night, to make a little extra money, she went down to the mouth of the Pemaquid River to check her nets. The commercial operation in Maine grew explosively from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, when the more than 1,500 shers with permits could each make several thousand dollars a night at the dock for their catch. People began stealing and vandalizing nets and pulling .357 Magnums to stake out or preserve shing territories. In one creek, shermen had a net called the green monster. "It went clear across the river," Bryant said in her raspy voice, ashing her cigarette in a scallop shell. "It was a goddamn asco." She and a few others appealed to the state, "just out of our own preservation." Today the allowable eel take in Maine---the state with the most active shery--- is restricted to a few locations and a short season, from March 22 to May 31. In 1997 record-low catches of prized Japanese glass eels sent prices soaring---a single kilo (2.2 pounds), about 5,000 of them, sold for as much as $16,500, making eel more valuable at the time than gold. When the supply of Japanese sky, having fallen when the heavens became too hot. On Earth, some say, the movements of eels make the rivers flow.