Shifting Baselines

Less Cod, More Slime

New regulations were put into place yesterday that require stricter record keeping and observer programs onboard hagfishing boats. Hagfish have been dubbed as the most “disgusting” of all sea creatures and they seem to even be disgusted with themselves–knotting their bodies to rid themselves of their slime (see photo taken by NOAA of hafish at 280 meters).

When cod stocks off the East coast first showed signs of trouble in the 1980s, fishermen started to go after the spiny dogfish and monkfish. Predictably, dogfish and monkfish then also became overfished. Now fishermen are moving further down the marine food web, further offshore, and deeper down. In the early 1990s, the children of a generation of fishermen who could harpoon swordfish from their boats began pursuing the deep sea hagfish, also known as slime eels, for the Korean markets. Koreans first wanted the hagfish for hagfish leather products but they also eat hagfish at roadside stands, often followed by a shot of liquor (to cut the slime).

Though the big fish are gone, the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and tightening of regulations should ensure there is plenty of slime for the future…

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Powell
    May 24, 2007

    Alright Jennifer, now you’re into the really fun shifting baseline stuff like the hagfish fishery. Just wait until they’re rebranded as “soft cod” or something more palatable. Then they’ll cost $10 per pound and be on cooking shows.

  2. #2 Sheril Kirshenbaum
    May 28, 2007

    Dec 2005 I spoke at an Emerging Fisheries Conference in Halifax where the two species of interest were sea cucumbers and hagfish. Fascinating critters indeed, but then part of me had to shake my head in disbelief looking at slides of slime.. Once again, the cukes look awfully appetizing by comparison.

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    August 23, 2010

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