Slimy hagfish farms growing

PORT ANGELES — A relatively untapped fishery is growing on the North Olympic Peninsula with at least two fish distributors planning to expand hagfish operations to supply Asian markets.

Hagfish, also known as “slime eels,” are a popular food in South Korea, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

Five Ocean Seafoods Inc. has applied to the Port of Port Angeles for the lease of a warehouse at the port’s industrial park in Port Angeles. There, the live fish would be kept in seawater tanks until they are shipped by air to South Korea.

The fish, which are caught in traps similar to crab pots, are being kept in open tanks near Neah Bay, where employees are being trained in hagfish care and local anglers are learning the tricks of hagfish fishing, said Brandt Koo, general manager of Five Ocean Seafoods Inc.

Neighbors have complained about the noise of the fledgling fishery operation in Neah Bay, but there haven’t been any complaints about a fishy smell, Koo said.

“The slime just smells like seawater,” he said.

The port is looking for a similar upland hagfish operation to determine whether the smell of the fish is manageable in a business park setting and whether it would be a good neighbor for other businesses, said Jeff Robb, Port of Port Angeles executive director.

Olympic Coast Seafoods has been shipping live hagfish from Port Angeles to Korea for two years and also plans to expand, said owner Rodney Kim.

Several fish distributors have tried to enter the hagfish market in Port Angeles but haven’t lasted long after discovering that the fish can be difficult to get to the Asian markets in good condition, Kim said. “We’re always learning new things. There is always room for new ideas,” he told the newspaper.

At the Olympic Coast Seafoods warehouse last week, more than a dozen large tanks of salt water awaited the next boatload of hagfish.

One tank held hundreds of the fish, resting several layers deep at the bottom of a net.

Hagfish can kill themselves in their own slime, so the tanks are constantly cleaned and the area kept quiet and dark to make sure the fish are calm and comfortable, said Andy Inscore, operations manager at the Olympic Coast Seafoods hagfish warehouse.

Employees offload the hagfish, clean off the slime, and then put them in large holding tanks, where the fish live for about two weeks until they are transferred to smaller tanks for export.

“A single hagfish can fill a bucket with slime,” Inscore said. The slime is meant to dissuade predators from eating them, it also can block the hagfish’s own gills.

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Information from: Peninsula Daily News, http://www.peninsuladailynews.com

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