Credit: Olson and Baldwin, ADF&G, Douglas, AK

 

Hagfish is the real name for so-called slime eels and it could become a viable fishery with ready markets standing by.

Little is known about hagfish in Alaska although they are commonly caught elsewhere. Oregon fishermen, for example, catch up to two million pounds each year in buckets or barrels and get paid up to $1.25 a pound.

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Now, two Alaska biologists are testing the waters with fishermen in Southeast –

“It’s commonly seen as a pest. In longline fisheries for sablefish they often leave slime blobs on the hooks and will strip bait at Clarence Strait and they get in shrimp pots as well.”

Andrew Olson is with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Douglas.

A single foot and a half inch hagfish can fill a bucket with slime in seconds from glands alongside its body. The slime has several functions, says fellow researcher Aaron Baldwin – it suffocates predators, helps hunt prey and lubricates entry into fish.

“And when you open them up it is literally bones, hagfish slime and a few hagfish inside the fish. It’s pretty close to emptied out. They start with the internal organs and eat every bit of flesh that’s in there.”

Baldwin says the chemical make up of hagfish slime is stronger than spider silk.

“The US navy is using synthetic hagfish slime to produce a substance that is lighter and stronger than Kevlar.”

The slime also shows potential as an anti-foulant for ship hulls. And medical research has shown that hagfish slime heals burns quickly and may be used as microfibers for cell repair.

Right now, the established market for hagfish is in South Korea where it’s a barbecue favorite and the skin is sold as “eel skin leather” products.

Meanwhile, little is known about this extremely unique species in Alaska, and Baldwin and Olson aim to keep the science ahead of a new fishery.

If any Alaska fishermen encounter hagfish in waters besides Southeast they’d like to know about it.

Learn more about hagfish at Alaska Fish and Wildlife News

Video of commercial hagfish fishing aboard the Viking Sunrise, using barrel pots.

Short video of a biologist handling hagfish slime.

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