Little is known about hagfish in Alaska, although they are commonly caught elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. In Oregon, for example, a fleet of 15 to 20 boats catches up to 2 million pounds each year in customized five-gallon buckets or large barrels and pay fishermen up to $1.25 per pound.
Now, two Alaska biologists who were given a special permit to catch 60,000 pounds of hagfish for their studies are testing the waters for a fishery with a longliner in Southeast.
“It’s commonly seen as a pest,” said Andrew Olson, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. “In longline fisheries for sablefish, they often leave slime blobs on the hooks and strip bait, and they get into shrimp pots as well.”
Olson is in the second year of a hagfish study with fellow researcher Aaron Baldwin. Their goal is to “keep the science ahead of any fishery to make sure it is sustainable” by learning more about the unique species.
“We are looking at basic biology such as length, weight and egg counts in females. We can’t yet age the fish and they don’t thrive well in captivity. We are really starting from scratch,” Olson said.
Reproduction and spawning have never been witnessed or documented, and biologists don’t know where or when hagfish do so.
“We’ve seen eggs, and juveniles, but nothing in between,” said Baldwin. “No one has ever seen a baby hagfish.”
A single foot-and-a-half, nine-ounce hagfish can fill a bucket with slime in seconds from 100 glands alongside its body.