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North Pacific Eel Trap Study

North Pacific Eel Trap Study

Hawaiian monk seal pups are entangled by eel trap parts

Young of the Hawaiian monk seals get funnel-like trap parts caught on their snouts, causing abrasion and infection. 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 1,500 individuals remaining. Over the past twenty years (2000-2019) 15 seal pups and one yearling have been found entangled in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the trap part removed. That is an underestimation of total entanglements as researchers spend a very limited amount of time on these remote islands. We must do something to reduce the number of entanglements and deaths.

Photo: NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Honolulu. NOAA Fisheries Permit # 848-1695

What do eel trap parts look like?

Thousands of the eel trap entrance parts get detached from the traps for Conger eels and Hagfish eels each year, float around in the North Pacific Gyre, and end up on Hawaiian shores. The black cone/funnels are attached to tubes, 5-gal. buckets, or 50-gal plastic barrels so that the eels can enter the trap but not escape.  The traps are tied to a long-line and set 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. Although the cones generally look alike, there are many different varieties used in various fisheries in the North Pacific, mainly in the East China Sea, and also along the west coast of North America. The cone/funnels may float for decades in the North Pacific Gyre before ending up on Hawaiian shores.

Eel cylinder trap and a bucket trap. Entrance part would be inserted and attached on left side of tube in this photo.

How can you help?

  1. Surfrider Foundation is asking for everyone to collect the 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. 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 into the ocean each year.

  2. If you find any, please photograph and email the photos to with date and location. Photos taken straight down the top of the cone, especially with a light (e.g., sand) background is best for us to identify markings (see below).

  3. Please report any entanglement or ingestion of hagfish trap parts to local authorities and email a copy of report to Dr. Berg (