Commercial coastal hagfish fishery

Hagfish are a primitive jawless fish belonging to the Myxinidae family. They inhabit muddy seafloors in temperate water throughout the world's oceans at depths ranging from 30 to 16,000 feet. Worldwide, there are over 60 known species; however, just two, the Pacific (Eptatretus stoutii) and black hagfish (E. deani) are commonly found in Washington's coastal waters. Hagfish have an eel-like form and they are notorious for secreting copious amounts of slime when threatened or agitated. They are commonly referred to as "slime eels."

In Washington, hagfish are harvested both live and frozen, and essentially all catch is shipped to South Korea, where hagfish are considered a delicacy. In the early 1990s, experimental gear permits were issued to several participants to harvest hagfish for the "eel-skin" leather market in South Korea. Interest in the fishery faded due to difficulties with on-board handling. Captured hagfish often attacked and wounded each other in the vessel's hold and the subsequent damage to the skin rendered them unmarketable. That fishery ended in 1992.

Management

The hagfish fishery on the outer coast of Washington opened as a "trial fishery" under the Emerging Commercial Fishery Act (ECFA) in 2005, prompted by industry request. The purpose of the ECFA is to allow the development and evaluation of new fishery opportunities. The trial designation under the ECFA allows for participation by anyone holding a valid emerging commercial fishery license (i.e., open access) and a hagfish trial fishery permit. The permit is non-transferable and has no market value. A person may hold only one permit at a time.

The fishery is open year-round in only Pacific Ocean waters greater than 50 fathoms in depth and landings are not capped. WDFW closely monitors fishing activity by requiring vessel captains to provide notification in advance of returning to port. This facilitates dockside collection of catch and biological data. Monitoring is also accomplished through a mandatory logbook program.

Fishing method

The commercial hagfish fleet harvest hagfish with baited traps that are placed on a common ground line, which is equipped with an attached marker buoy and pole. The traps are placed on the sea-floor and held there with weighted or anchored chain. The fishery fleet in Washington mostly use traps built from olive or pickle barrels. Traps are equipped with one-way entrance funnels that can vary in number and placement. Traps also have numerous dewatering holes. Commonly used baits include squid, sardine, herring, and various scrap pieces from rockfish.

Notices and letters to industry

Annual Notices

  • 2013 - Hagfish Fishery Review
  • 2014 - Hagfish Logs - Advance Notification
  • 2015 - Hagfish Fishery
  • 2016 - Fish Ticket Requirement - Log Notification

Letters

  • 2013 - April - Hagfish
  • 2013 - September - Logbook Requirements
  • 2014 - January - Advance Notification-Reassign Call Number
  • 2015 - Rule Change - Live Hagfish - Transportation
  • 2016 - Call for Logs
  • 2017 - New Change - Logbook Audits

Rules and regulations

  • 220-360-200: Designation of the hagfish pot fishery as an emerging commercial fishery.
  • 220-360-210: Emerging commercial fishery -- Eligibility for trial fishery permits -- incidental catch.
  • 220-360-220: Hagfish pot trial fishery -- Season and gear.
  • 220-360-230: Hagfish pot trial fishery -- Logbook required.

Licensing and permit requirements

It is important to understand fisheries operating under the Emerging Commercial Fishery Act (ECFA) are not permanent and can be closed if deemed necessary to protect and preserve the resource, in particular, or more broadly marine ecosystem habitat or health. It is essential that fishers support the efforts to collect the catch and biological data necessary to evaluate the sustainability of the hagfish fishery.

A commercial fisher is required to possess two documents: an Emerging Commercial Fishery License and a Hagfish Trial Pot Fishery Permit to fish for or deliver hagfish (220-360 WAC).

  • WAC 220-360-200 - Designation of the hagfish pot fishery as an emerging commercial fishery
  • WAC 220-360-210 - Emerging commercial fishery – Eligibility for trial fishery permits – Incidental catch

Emerging Commercial Fishery License

  • Step 1: Apply for License
    Licenses can be obtained by mail or same day, in person at the WDFW Licensing located at the Natural Resources Building, Olympia WA. For additional information about fishery license requirements in Washington, please contact the WDFW Licensing Division at 360-902-2464 or via e-mail at commercialsales@dfw.wa.gov

Hagfish Trial Pot Fishery Permit

  • Step 2: Apply for Permit
    Complete and return the Application for Commercial Fishery License form to the WDFW Licensing located at the Natural Resources Building, Olympia WA. commercialsales@dfw.wa.gov

    Permits are not available same day, in person. Permits may take up to 30 days to process. However, a permit will not be issued unless or until the Emerging Commercial Fishery License has been issued.

    For additional information about the hagfish trial fishery permit, or to speed up the permit processing please contact Donna Downs at 360-249-4628

Permit Conditions

The 2020 permit requirements are:

  1. This permit is valid only if the permit holder also holds a valid emerging commercial fishery license that has the above named vessel designated on the license.
  2. This permit is non-transferable and required aboard the vessel at all times while the vessel is engaged in the fishery, including the sale of catch.  The permit holder must provide the permit upon request by a state or federal fishery officer, or WDFW employee.
  3. Conduct all fishing activity in accordance with the fishery regulations of WAC Chapter 220-360-E.  Nothing in this permit shall be construed to mean that the permit holder is exempt from compliance with any other valid law or regulation of any governmental agency.
  4. Prepare a legible, accurate, and complete harvest log for all hagfish fishing activity before delivery commences and provide it to the department upon request.  If department personnel fail to collect logs from you, send logs, no later than the 10th day following the end of each calendar month, to:

    Marine Fish Resources
    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
    48 Devonshire Road
    Montesano, WA 98563 

    The permit holder must maintain the log using the Hagfish Harvest Logbook provided by the department.
  5. To facilitate data collection, department personnel must be notified a minimum of 24 hours in advance of landing and provided the date and approximate time, and location of landing. The contact is Donna Downs at 360-589-6668.
  6. At the option of the department, the permit holder must allow department personnel on board the vessel to observe fishing operations and/or collect biological data on the catch.
  7. At the option of the department, the permit holder must surrender a portion of the catch (e.g., 25 pounds) to the department for biological sampling and research purposes.
  8. The permit holder must document all hagfish landed on commercial marine fish/shellfish receiving tickets, including hagfish caught offshore Oregon, quantities of hagfish too small to sell, and dead loss.  Dead loss may be assigned zero value.
  9. At-sea transfer or sale of hagfish is prohibited.
  10. Pot gear is the only fishing gear authorized for use under this permit.  Each pot must have one or more biodegradable escape exits of at least 9.5 square inches in opening constructed with 120-thread size or smaller of untreated cotton twine.  The maximum size of the entrance tunnel is 11 square inches.  Entrance tunnels may be of any shape.  Hagfish pot gear must be marked and buoyed in accordance with fishery regulation WAC 220-360-220.
  11. Each permit allows a maximum of 100 pots, fished either individually or on a common ground line.
  12. All gear must be fished deeper than 50-fathoms.
  13. This permit authorizes owners and/or operators of commercial hagfish fishing vessels to process hagfish at sea by freezing.
  14. A violation of this permit is punishable under RCW 77.15.750 (4) Unlawful use of a department permit — Penalty.
  15. This permit may be subject to revocation, and future permit requests may be denied by the Director for failure to abide by the conditions of the permit, for violation of other fishing regulations (RCW 77.15.690), or if such action is deemed to be in the best interests of the fisheries resources (WAC 220-360-040).  The revocation is subject to the permit holder’s opportunity to contest such action pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (Chapter 34.05, RCW).
  16. The Director may modify the conditions of this permit at any time.  The department will notify the permit holder of any modifications in writing.
  17. This permit expires on December 31, 2020.

For additional information about the hagfish trial fishery permit, please contact Donna Downs at 360-249-4628.

Commercial hagfish logbook instructions

Do not combine multiple trips on a single logbook page. Use as many logbook pages as needed for a single trip.

Fill out the "Header" top section of each page completely.

Vessel Name: Name of vessel

Departure Date: Day you left port (include month, day, and year)

Port: Port vessel left when fishing trip began

Captain: Name of captain

Return Date: Day arrived at port on return leg

Port: Port vessel returned and offloaded catch

Phone Number: Captain's phone number

Buyer: Name of the fish dealer that purchased your fish

Ticket Number: Fish ticket number associated with landing

Crew size: Number of crew onboard during the trip (include captain)

Frozen/Live: Check box to indicate live or frozen product was delivered

Complete each line of the catch section, even if there was no catch.

Date Set: Date set for each string (month and day)

Date Pulled: Date pulled for each string (month and day)

Total Soak time: Total of number of hours gear soaked

Number of Pots: Number of pots on each string

String Length: Length of entire string in fathoms

Average Depth: Average depth fished for string in fathoms

Latitude Start: Record the latitude (in left row) and longitude (in right row) for the beginning point of each string in degrees and decimal minutes

Latitude End: Record the latitude (in left row) and longitude (in right row) for the ending point of each string in degrees and decimal minutes

MFSF Catch Area: Use listed catch areas located on the front cover page map

Retained Hagfish: Pounds of hagfish retained for that string

Returned Hagfish: Pounds of hagfish returned to the ocean for that string

Other Species: Species of fish returned to the ocean for that string

Mail completed logbook pages to:

WDFW Coastal Hagfish Management
48 Devonshire RD.
Montesano WA 98563

Logbooks are to be turned in by the 10th of the month following fishing activity. For a new logbook, call the WDFW Region 6 office: 360-249-4628.

Landings, effort, and value

Annual landings by fish ticket catch area (in pounds)

Year 58B 59A1 59A2 60A 60A1 60A2 61 Total Pounds
1990       79,123       79,123
1991       9,731       9,731
1992       42,181       42,181
2005   46,250 51,860     51,280   149,390
2006   61,500 33,700   175,285 23,462   293,947
2007   8,404 26,716   203,884 65,632   304,636
2008         778,634 62,081 8,207 848,922
2009   166,460 9,756   795,928 265,795 4,445 1,242,384
2010   540,189 301,921   587,174 122,709   1,551,993
2011   13,631 14,431   313,531 360,206 843,307 1,545,106
2012   129,240 27,221   83,896 156,345 1,947,853 2,344,555
2013 83,206 629,608 198,714   518,188 168,389 816,227 2,414,332
2014   341,112 40,722   73,023 560,682 376,220 1,391,759
2015 2,000 193,033 97,613   516,467 342,316 87,785 1,239,214
2016 200 98,490 72,370   170,183 445,474 388,643 1,175,360
2017   14,196 6,000   159,150 404,920 47,561 631,827
2018   64,446 31,502   89,713 68,416 281,592 535,669
Totals 85,406 2,306,559 912,526 131,035 4,465,056 3,097,707 4,801,840 15,800,129

Ex-vessel value

Chart depicting annual ex-vessel value of hagfish
Year Ex-vessel Value
1990 42,622
1991 3,788
1992 14,437
2005 62,320
2006 150,002
2007 219,817
2008 546,863
2009 923,096
2010 1,295,449
2011 1,299,501
2012 2,218,768
2013 2,279,210
2014 1,478,069
2015 1,385,491
2016 1,474,877
2017 999,453
2018 847,334