Photo/IllutrationThree men were involved in elver poaching in April at the mouth of the Ushirogawa river in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture. (Tomoya Takaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

KOCHI--Authorities here are cracking down on yakuza-related eel poaching and moving to shut off a source of income for crime syndicates.

Since September, the Kochi prefectural government has examined the identities of 2,700 fishermen and brokers and found multiple yakuza members based on police information, officials said.

Young eels, or elvers, are essential for eel cultivation, and they are called “white diamonds” because they are traded at high prices. Grilled eel is also a summer delicacy in Japan.

The fishing season for elvers in the clear Shimantogawa river and elsewhere in the prefecture runs from December to March, and the fishermen must gain approval from the governor.

But illegal eel fishing has been rampant.

The prefectural government in September specified in screening standards: “Yakuza members, people who have violated the organized crime group elimination ordinance or those who have provided any benefits to yakuza groups will not be allowed to work as fishermen or brokers.”

Those rules were applied a month after the Kochi District Court sentenced two crime syndicate members and another man connected with the group to five months in prison, suspended for three years, for illegally catching elvers.

According to the indictment, they caught 227 young eels in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture, in April when elver fishing was prohibited.

Investigations found that gangsters were directly engaged in poaching. A former gangster operated a pen and other facilities for keeping elvers, and a relative of a senior mobster worked as a broker for the group.

“The evidence revealed poaching is a source of funds for the yakuza organization,” a local prosecutor said.

A senior Kochi prefectural police official said that case was likely just the tip of the iceberg.

“We believe yakuza members work as fishermen or brokers or force other brokers to pay ‘mikajimeryo’ protection money in many other instances,” the official said. “We will thoroughly crack down on them.”