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Hagfish Traps Are Harming Hawaiian Monk Seal Pups

Hagfish trap on monk seal
Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources

Discarded commercial fishing gear can pollute the Hawaiian coastline, harming native marine life.

Hagfish traps in particular are harming Hawaiian monk seal pups.

The cone-shaped traps tighten around a monk seal’s mouth as it sticks its head inside to investigate. If it is not freed, it can die of starvation.

Hagfish do not live around Hawaiʻi’s waters, so the traps come from Asia or the U.S. west coast.

The Surfrider Foundation is collecting hagfish traps and categorizing them to investigate where the traps come from. They plan to talk with the fisheries to try to find a more equitable solution.

"We do have a certain percentage of plastic pollution that are land-based. That would be like your single-use plastic items — your plastic bags, straws, forks, et cetera. We typically find those on the leeward side of our coastline," Lauren Blickley, Hawai‘i Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said.

"On the windward side, because of how we’re oriented to the North Pacific Gyre, to the prevailing currents, and also the prevailing tradewinds, we are getting the majority of our plastic pollution from the ocean," Blickley said. "A lot of that is connected directly to fishing gear and commercial fishery."

Sighted hagfish traps should be removed from the ocean. Email the Surfrider Foundation with photos and the number of traps collected to

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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