Conservationists say that the hagfish, a loathsome undersea scavenger whose appearance and behavior are too revolting for most people even to contemplate, is on the decline.
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As primitive, tubelike scavengers that feed on dead and dying animals, hagfish are hardly charismatic or appealing, so the discovery that at least 12 percent of hagfish species face an elevated risk of extinction may not tug on the heartstrings.
But conservationists are concerned.
"Hagfish are a great example of one of those 'not-so-cute' species that play a vital role in ecosystem health," said Cristiane Elfes, a program officer with a unit of the Global Marine Species Assessment, a joint initiative of several groups. The study was produced as part of this initiative. "This study highlights the impact we have on hagfish and the importance of protecting them to maintain the stability of ocean ecosystems."
The study indicates that fishing is the primary direct and indirect cause of hagfish declines: Hagfish are caught intentionally for food and leather, and they also get scooped up unintentionally in bottom-trawling nets that damage their habitat on the seafloor. [Oceans Primed for Mass Extinction?]