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"What on Earth?" ENTRY 001: Slimy Debris?

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I’d like to introduce our new blog feature, “What on Earth?” (insert brow crinkling here).  This new feature will highlight unusual, odd, or perplexing pieces of marine debris that have been or remain a “mystery item” for those in the field. These entries are currently compiled and written by Ryan Quakenbush, student at Punahou School, Honolulu, HI (with assistance from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and Seba Sheavly, Sheavly Consultants).

Location Debris Found: Hawai’i, USA

This piece of marine debris (main photo) was found on the uninhabited island of Kaho‘olawe, Hawaii. Another, related piece of marine debris frequently seen on Hawai‘i beaches is a black plastic funnel-like contraption (photo inset). The cone-like piece fits into the open end of the plastic cylinder.

You may be wondering, “What on earth is it?” Well, we aren’t 100% certain, but reliable sources believe them to be part of a hagfish or eel trap used by fisheries!

Hagfish are benthic (inhabit the sea floor area; mainly mud and silt), eel-like fish that when agitated or in self-defense become one of the slimiest fish in the sea! While slimy and a bit odd-looking, for instance they only have one nostril, they are eaten primarily in Asia, and their skin is sometimes used as “eel leather.”

Photo of a hagfish. Photo credit: NOAA.

From a website selling fishing supplies.

Most of these hagfish or eel traps are “small plastic cylinders about five inches in diameter by 24 inches long with an entrance funnel in one end and small holes around the sides” (McCrae, 1997). This description, as well as photos of trap supplies found on the Internet (see above), matches the debris found. These traps are required, at least in California, to have biodegradable escape features, so lost traps can’t “ghostfish” (continue to “fish” and trap marine life once lost or abandoned).

While we think a hagfish or eel trap is what we found on that beach on Kaho‘olawe, we aren’t 100% sure. If you have any more information about this marine debris item’s identity, please contact us at

Barss, William. 1993. Pacific Hagfish, Eptatretus stouti, and Black Hagfish, E. deani: The Oregon Fishery and Port Sampling Observations, 1988-92. Marine Fisheries Review 55(4).

McCrae, J. 1997. Oregon Developmental Species: Pacific Hagfish, Eptatretus stouti.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

One thought on “"What on Earth?" ENTRY 001: Slimy Debris?

  1. please contact to me if you have any questions for cylindrical trap.

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