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Hagfish species help keep the general health status of the marine ecosystem they inhabit. (Photo: Paddy Ryan/Ryan Photographic/UICN)

Warnings: hagfish at 'high risk of extinction

  (WORLDWIDE, 8/1/2011)

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) estimates that 20 per cent of hagfish (sea slugs or sea lampreys) are at "high" risk of extinction

According to the study, these fish are one of the oldest species on Earth and live in the bottom of the sea, where they play an important role as 'cleaners' of the sea floor and as recyclers of nutrients for the food chain. In this way, they help maintain the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Landon Knapp, one of the researcher assistants of the Marine Biodiversity Unit of IUCN and of Old Dominion University, explains that hagfish clean the floor by eating the remains of bodies falling into the ocean and, at the same time, help create a rich environment for other species, including some that have commercial importance such as cod, kingclip or flounder.

“The presence of hagfish in areas of intense fishing is extremely important as large amounts of bycatch are discarded," said the scientist.

According to the study, hagfish species from South Australia and from the southern coast of Brazil are threatened. However, more concern is caused by those species from the Eastern Chinese Sea, from the Pacific coast of Japan and the coast of Taiwan. In these areas, 4 out of 13 species of hagfish are threatened with extinction.

Meanwhile, Michael Mincarone, one of the authors of the study and professor of Zoology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said that “in many geographic regions, only one or two hagfish species are present, and therefore the loss or decline of even a single species in these areas will have detrimental effects on ecosystems as a whole, as well as the fisheries that depend on them.”

For IUCN, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are the biggest threats to several hagfish species, such as the Myxine paucidens and the Paramyxine taiwanae.

Despite the critical state, the organization warns that there are no conservation measures or legislation to protect the populations of hagfish.

By Analia Murias
[email protected]
www.fis.com

 

 


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