Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Myxini Myxiniformes Myxinidae

Scientific Name: Myxine glutinosa
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Atlantic Hagfish, Common Hag, Hagfish, Northern Hagfish, Borer
French Myxine, Myxine du Nord
Spanish Anguila Babosa, Babosa de Mar, Pez Moco
Gasterobranchus glutinosus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Gastrobranchus coecus Bloch, 1792
Myxine glutinosa subspecies australis Putnam, 1874
Myxine glutinosa subspecies limosa Putnam, 1874
Myxine glutinosa subspecies septentrionalis Putnam, 1874
Myxine limosa Girard, 1859
Petromyzon myxine Walbaum, 1792
Taxonomic Notes: According to Fernholm and Wheeler (1983), four specimens in the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (Swedish Museum of Natural History) are probably the original material examined by Linnaeus (1758) to describe the species and they should be accorded type status.

The western North Atlantic population was at one time assigned to a separate species, Myxine limosa Girard (1859), and Wisner and McMillan (1995) suggested a return to this practice based on differences in size at maturity (eastern North Atlantic are smaller) and colour differences in preserved specimens. In the absence of other supporting morphological data, these features seem insufficient to justify dividing the eastern and western Atlantic populations into separate species (Martini et al. 1998, Martini and Flescher 2002). More conclusive studies involving morphological and molecular data are necessary to resolve this taxonomic question.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2009-11-12
Assessor(s): Mincarone, M.M.
Reviewer(s): Polidoro, B., Knapp, L. & Carpenter, K.E.
This species is abundant and has a wide distribution from North America to Europe. A fishery is in place in the Gulf of Maine and statistics suggest that catch per unit effort (CPUE) and population abundance have locally decline. However, this fishery operates in only 5-10% of its range, and there is no indication of widespread population decline throughout the species distribution. It is listed as Least Concern. Given its commercial importance, current and future fisheries for this species should be carefully monitored.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:There are two populations from the North Atlantic Ocean of this species. In the eastern North Atlantic, from Murmansk (Russia) to northern Morocco, and the western Mediterranean Sea (north Morocco, Algeria, and northern Adriatic Sea, but probably occurs along all coastal regions of western Mediterranean). In the western North Atlantic, from Greenland to Florida, including a few records in the Gulf of Mexico (off Yucatán and Florida).
Countries occurrence:
Algeria; Canada; Denmark; France; Germany; Gibraltar; Greenland; Ireland; Italy; Mexico; Morocco; Netherlands; Norway; Portugal; Spain; Sweden; United Kingdom; United States
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northeast; Mediterranean and Black Sea
Lower depth limit (metres):1100
Upper depth limit (metres):40
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This species is known to be very abundant and has a large distribution.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This species is found on shelves and slopes at depths from 40-1,100 m (eastern North Atlantic) and from 75-742 m depth (western North Atlantic). The maximum depth record (1,006 m) given by Wisner and McMillan (1995) for western North Atlantic population was based on a single specimen (ISH 431-1986) recently reidentified as Myxine jespersenae, which was in fact collected off southeastern Iceland (Møller et al. 2005). The sex ratio of females and males in the samples analyzed by Martini et al. (1997) was highly skewed, at 9.8:1, which is typical for the species as a whole. The paucity of males in population on both sides of the Atlantic has long been recognized, but it remains unexplained.

This species is found on muddy bottoms where they hide in the mud. Slime is utilized for defence and it feeds chiefly on dead and dying fish of varying species by boring into the body and consuming viscera and musculature. The species is chiefly nocturnal. Its eggs are few in number about 19-30 mm and large (20-25 mm), the horny shell has a cluster of anchor-tipped filaments at each end. The copulatory organ is absent in this species. The gonads of hagfishes are situated in the peritoneal cavity. The ovary is found in the anterior portion of the gonad, and the testis is found in the posterior part. The animal becomes female if the cranial part of the gonad develops or male if the caudal part undergoes differentiation. If none develops, then the animal becomes sterile. If both anterior and posterior parts develop, then the animal becomes a functional hermaphrodite. However, hermaphroditism being characterised as functional needs to be validated by more reproduction studies (Patzner 1998).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Data on the developing fishery on the western Atlantic population of M. glutinosa has been collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and by the New England Fisheries Development Association (NEFDA) (Martini and Flescher 2002). In 1991, two boats made 32 trips over an 8-month period. During 1993, some 890,000 lb of hagfish were landed at Gloucester, Sandwich, Hampton, and Stonington. During 1994, five boats were involved in full-time hag fishing and made a total of 796 trips. Catches rose during 1997-1999, totalling 11.5 million lb and generating approximately US $3.3 million. Over the period 1991-1996, roughly 50 million hagfish were processed and shipped overseas; during 1997-1999, that number grew to roughly 212 million. Hagfish shorter than 500 mm, the minimum length suitable for leather, are discarded into the surface waters, where they quickly become moribund. On some trips, over 50% of the catch was discarded as unmarketable. Under these conditions the number of individuals removed from the environment would be more than twice the number landed ashore. It is not known what effects such a decline will have on the benthic ecology. However, from a regulatory perspective it is obviously difficult to set defensible quotas or guidelines for a fishery when virtually nothing definitive is known about the size of the population, their reproductive potential, their individual growth rates, or their longevity.

In the Gulf of Maine (GOM), Atlantic hagfish are caught using modified 55-gallon plastic barrels, called hagfish pots, attached to sinking line and buoys. Typically 20-40 traps are deployed in a string for a small commercial vessel and 80-200 traps for larger vessels (NEFSC 2003). A series of funnelled holes in the side of the barrel allow hagfish to enter the baited pot but doesn’t allow them to escape. Several rows of 3/8” holes allow smaller animals to escape the traps.

Reporting of Atlantic hagfish landings is presently not required by law and fishery data are therefore incomplete. Atlantic hagfish landings first appear in the NEFSC commercial database in 1993 with a reported landing of approximately 500 metric tons. Annual reported landings during 1994-2000 ranged between 1,100 and 3,000 metric tons with a peak in 2000 (Keith 2006).

Reported commercial hagfish trips ranged from 94 trips in 1994 to 863 trips in 1996 and averaged slightly above 400 trips per year during 1994-2000. Landings during 2001 to 2005 have ranged from 700-1,300 metric tons per year. Trips targeting Atlantic hagfish declined after 2001, averaging 253 per year (Keith 2006) NMFS Logbook database indicated that the number of vessels in the hagfish fishery peaked at 23 vessels in 1996 and 22 vessels in 2000 (Keith 2006). Since 2000 there has been a steady decline of vessels reporting landings, with only six vessels reporting in 2005.

A data collection program has been proposed for Atlantic Hagfish by NMFS requiring seafood dealers to acquire permits and report on the purchase of hagfish made from commercial fishing vessels to aid in the future management of this species (Federal Register 2006, Keith 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: While not actively managed, the Gulf of Maine Hagfish fishery is in the process of being regulated. A data collection program has been proposed for the species by NMFS requiring seafood dealers to acquire permits and report on the purchase of hagfish made from commercial fishing vessels to aid in the future management of this species. Furthermore, given its commercial importance, current and future fisheries for this species should be carefully monitored.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.6. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Muddy
suitability: Suitable  
11. Marine Deep Benthic -> 11.1. Marine Deep Benthic - Continental Slope/Bathyl Zone (200-4,000m) -> 11.1.2. Soft Substrate
suitability: Suitable  

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Wearing apparel, accessories
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Adam, H. and Strahan, R. 1963. Systematics and geographical distribution of myxinoids. In: A. Brodal and R. Fänge (eds), The biology of Myxine, pp. 588. Universitetsforlaget, Oslo.

Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C. 1948. Cyclostomes. In: J. Tee-Van, C.M. Breder, S.F. Hildebrand, A.E. Parr and W.C. Schroeder (eds), Fishes of the western North Atlantic, pp. 29-58. Memoir. Sears Foundation for Marine Research.

Bloch, M.E. 1791. Sur les Gastrobranchus, nouveau genre de poisson. Bulletin des Sciences par la Société Philomatique 1: 26.

Fernholm, B. 1998. Hagfish systematics. In: J.M. Jørgensen, J.P. Lomholt, R.E. Weber and H. Malte (eds), The Biology of Hagfishes, pp. 33-44. Chapman & Hall, London.

Fernholm, B. and Wheeler, A. 1983. Linnaean fish specimens in the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 78(3): 199-286.

Girard, C. F. 1859. Ichthyological notices. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 11: 223-225.

IUCN. 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2011.1). Available at: (Accessed: 16 June 2011).

Keith, C. 2006. Atlantic hagfish: Status of fishery resources off the northeastern US (Atlantic Hagfish, Myxine glutinosa). NEFSC-Resource Evaluation and Assessment Division. NOAA.

Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordinus, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Impensis Direct. Laurentii Salvii, Holmiae.

Martini, F.H. and Flescher, D. 2002. Hagfishes. Family Myxinidae. In: B. B. Collette and G. Klein-MacPhee (eds), Bigelow and Schroeder´s fishes of the Gulf of Maine. 3rd. edition, pp. 9-16. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Martini, F., Heiser, J.B., and Lesser, M.P. 1997. A population profile for Atlantic hagfish, Myxine glutinosa (L.) in the Gulf of Maine. Part I: Morphometrics and reproductive state. Fisheries Bulletin 95(2): 311-320.

Martini, F.H., Lesser, M.P. and Heiser, J.B. 1998. A population profile for hagfish, Myxine glutinosa, in the Gulf of Maine. Part 2: Morphological variation in population of Myxine in the North Atlantic Ocean. Fisheries Bulletin 96(3): 516-524.

Møller, P.R., Feld, T.K., Poulsen, I.H., Thomsen, P.F. and Thormar, J.G. 2005. Myxine jespersenae, a new species of hagfish (Myxiniformes: Myxinidae) from the North Atlantic Ocean. Copeia 2: 374-385.

Patzner, R.A. 1998. Gonads and reproduction in hagfishes. In: J.M. Jørgensen, J.P. Lomholt, R.E. Weber, and H. Malte (eds), The biology of hagfishes, pp. 378-395. Chapman & Hall, London.

Regan, C.T. 1913. A revision of the myxinoids of the genus Myxine. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 11(8): 395-398.

Wisner, R.L. and McMillan, C.B. 1995. Review of new world hagfishes of the genus *Myxine* (Agnatha, Myxinidae) with descriptions of nine new species. Fisheries Bulletin 93(3): 530-550.

Citation: Mincarone, M.M. 2013. Myxine glutinosa. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T196057A8988080. . Downloaded on 04 October 2015.
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