Kauai Chapter

Hagfish Trap Study

Surfrider’s Hagfish derelict fishing gear study

Young of the Hawaiian monk seals get funnel-like trap parts caught on their snouts, causing abrasion and infection (Photo courtesy of NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Honolulu). More importantly they are unable to feed, causing starvation, weakening and predation by sharks. The monk seals are a highly endangered species, with only approximately 1400 individuals remaining. Over the past twenty years (2000-2019) 15 seal pups have been found entangled in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the trap part removed, and that is an underestimation of total entanglements as very limited time is spent in the NWHI by researchers. We must do something to reduce the number of entanglements.

What do hagfish trap parts look like?

Hagfish trap entrance (left side) and the one-way funnel shaped trap (right).

Thousands of the hagfish trap pieces get detached from the hagfish traps each year, floating in the North Pacific Gyre, and ending up on Hawaiian shores. The black cone/funnels are attached to tubes, 5-gallon buckets, or 50-gal plastic barrels so that the eel-like hagfish can enter the trap but not escape. The traps are tied to a long-line and set on the on the ocean floor with bait inside. Often the cone/funnels come off and break apart, leaving only the cone portion as shown stuck on the snout of the monk seal pup (see above).

Although the cones look alike, there are many different varieties used in various fisheries across the North Pacific, from Japan and Korea to the west coast of North America. The cone/funnels float for decades in the North Pacific Gyre before ending up on Hawaiian shores.

Hagfish trap entrance cone with bio-fouling attached.

How can you help?

  1. We are asking for everyone to collect the hagfish cones and funnels whenever you see them. That way they can never entrap a monk seal pup, nor break up into smaller plastic pieces which other marine life could ingest.

  2. Once you have collected a few dozen, contact Dr. Berg (cberg@pixi.com) and he will arrange to get them from you. We want to know how many are washing ashore and to identify the type of cone/funnel so we can figure out where they came from. Hopefully we can reduce the number of cone/funnels that are lost each year.