There are few regulations on local eel fisheries, mainly because scientists know so little about the animal.
Hagfish are hatched from eggs, although the animal’s reproductive cycle is unknown. They can live at least 25 years, according to the ODFW.
“Conventional wisdom is they mostly feed on dead things,” said Troy Buell, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife state fisheries management program leader. “They are the recyclers of the ocean floor.”
Hagfish can be caught and exported year round, but fishing boats tend to come quickly in and out of the business.
“The whole export aspect of it can be a challenge,” Buell said. “Markets tend to come and go. Also, the quality has to be pretty high.”
Compared with other hagfish fisheries, the catches on the Oregon coast are small.
According to the ODFW, in 2009, Oregon landed less than 1 million pounds. 2010 saw 1.8 million pounds, although Buell admits that export totals are not well tracked.
Korea, despite its depleted fisheries, lands roughly 5 million pounds annually. New England sees similarly sized catches.