Oregon's new economic plan


Left holding the bag by the high-tech bust and unwilling to throw any more money down the higher-education rathole, the state of Oregon has come up with a bold new economic development strategy. Rather than relying on the highly capitalized, annoyingly pretentious post-industrial sector, Oregon will shift its economy to maggots and hagfish.

It is hard to capture the dramatic qualities of the hagfish in a simple sketch

Oregon's high-protein maggots, presently used mostly used for fish and bird food but soon to be marketed for human consumption, are strict vegetarians fed on the world's finest organic manure and humanely killed with boiling-hot water. This market sector has barely been tapped, and as it grows, Oregon's enormous supplies of high-quality manure will make it possible for the state to maintain its market dominance for some time. Oregon maggots have already been successfully brand-named, as has Oregon manure, so the state should be well situated to fight off challenges from other states whose supplies of manure are even greater.

Rather than sprawling in an undignified fashion, the hagfish coils up neatly

The hagfish (sometimes wrongly and prejudiciously called the "slime eel") is a genuinely primitive fish with a cartilageneous skeleton; it has a close resemblance to the probable common ancestor of all vertebrates. (Mean-minded theories that it is a degenerate species which has lost many vertebrate functions have been convincingly refuted.) Up until recently American hagfish suffered from trade restrictions imposed by South Korea, where the meat is considered a delicacy and the skin is used to make "eelskin" products.

Living a placid, low-stress life, the hagfish is extremely relaxed and supple

The young of the hagfish are hermaphroditic; as the larva matures, it takes on the form of one sex or another, though it can change sexes as needed. The Oregon hagfish is in a good position to take over the Korean market from the East Coast hagfish, which has been overfished -- just as the Korean hagfish was. (Oregon fishermen express confidence that this cannot happen here). The hagfish is famous for its ability to exude enormous amounts of uniquely fibrous slime when stressed. Hagfish slime has been used as an egg substitute in cooking, though this has not been developed as a commercial market.

It has wrongly been assumed that the hagfish is exclusively a carrion eater, due perhaps to its habit of burrowing into its prey and devouring it from the inside out, but hagfish also feed on worms and other small creatures. Besides exuding slime, hagfish are also known for their ability to tie themselves into knots in order either to strip their own slime from their bodies, to escape from predators, or to gain leverage when tearing on their prey. Earlier quality-control problems with American hagfish have been solved to the satisfaction of the Korean eelskin industry, making effective penetration of that market possible.

Mostly, though, what people remember about the hagfish is the enormous, almost unbelievable quantity of slime it produces. Perhaps for this reason, the hagfish has no known predators other than man. (But haven't we all heard that before?)

Oregon expects to sell at least 400 tons of hagfish annually to Korea over the next five years.


Hagfish Movie:


Bonus Fish-eating Snail Movie:
Snail attacking and swallowing a fish (Realtime movie)

(Click "cone shells" on menu on left; click "The venom apparatus and how it works (under "The Venom"); click "download the movie here".)

Portland Oregonian, March 13, 2002

The common housefly, Musca domestica, has a higher natural protein content than beef, fowl, fish or shellfish, Cockerum says. When dried, the per-ounce protein count is even higher.

Every week, Oregon Feeder Insects ships millions of maggots, pupae and adult houseflies -- dead and alive, whole and dried, ground and in-the-round -- to the makers of pet food, bird seed and fish hatchery chow. His next market could even be maggot protein blocks produced for human consumption, Cockerum says.

The flies he raises are strictly vegetarians. Cockerum disdains houseflies raised on meat, which he says exposes them to bacteria and other pathogens. Tillamook County manure comes from dairy cattle that graze in pesticide- and herbicide-free pastures, he says.

I looked at dairy country up and down the West Coast, but all the time the purest manure was right here in our own back yard," he says.

When they're ready for market, the maggots are taken outside and their feed is washed away on a large screen. Cockerum scalds them in steaming hot water because "it's the most humane way to kill them," he says. They're then dried on trays inside a converted bakery box.

Another ability that had won fame for hagfish is the mass amounts of slime almost instantly secreted as a defense mechanism

One very useful trick hagfish have developed is the ability to tie themselves in knots, and be able to slide in and out of this knot. This can be used to escape predators, to clean themselves of slime, and to work their way into a carcass. This picture shows: A) knotting; this movement is used to clean slime off the body; B) escaping from capture using knotting, a very powerful motion; C) pulling on food by knotting

They can also sneeze to unclog their nostrils of their own slime.


The hagfish is a true monster of the deep. Its body is covered with special glands that can emit a sticky slime. In fact, a single hagfish can produce enough slime at one time to fill a milk jug.


There is now a broad consensus over the idea that most of these unique anatomical and physiological features of hagfishes are in fact primitive and approach the condition of the common ancestor to all craniates. (Hyperotreti)


Surprisingly enough there are fishes without true fins or scales whose respiration does not rely mainly on "gills", and those that spend a great deal of time out of the water. One trait that all living fishes do have in common however, is that they have body slimes, a mucoid covering on their very outsides. (The Function of Body Slimes in Fishes).


Hagfish slime is unlike other slimy secretions in that it is reinforced with very fine fibres. Our data show that these fibres lend tensile strength and toughness to the slime. Subsequent research will investigate the mechanical properties of the mucus component of the slime, as well as the properties of naturally-produced slime cocoons. (Hagfish Slime Research).


One of the uses that we came up with was using the slime as an egg substitute in baking, as the composition of the slime is mainly protein and water.

To test this theory, we decided to try a cooking experiment comparing scones made with ordinary chicken eggs to scones made with hagfish slime.



Earnings of Developing New England Fishery Expected To Double



"We now have a chance to capture a majority of the hagfish market in Korea," says John Kratochvil, international trade manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, who has brought buyer and seller together when it comes to slime eels....

"This product fits the Korean market perfectly," says Kratochvil. "The contract recently signed between the Korean buyer and Oregon Sea Green Products is substantial and will provide the company a direction for the next five years."

"The amount of hagfish out there in the ocean-- we won't even put a dent in it," says Erdman. "It's a very targeted fishery. We will have zero impact on any other fish. With the type of gear we use, we don't even catch the small hagfish."

"The Koreans are beginning to understand the quality of Oregon hagfish," says Kratochvil. "They see our hagfish as meeting the quality standards of the Atlantic-caught fish."


While dollar figures are not available, Oregon Sea Green is expected to provide a minimum of 100 containers to Korea over the life of the five-year contract. Each 40-foot container will hold more than 20 tons of the hagfish.


Hagfish have no known natural predators, although egg and adult black hagfish have been found in the stomachs of sablefish. Hagfish, themselves, feed on dead and dying fish, burrowing into the prey and eating the flesh and viscera, leaving a bag of skin and bones.....  High ratios of female to male hagfish can often be found. It is uncertain whether the difference is real or reflects a difference in behaviors between the sexes.



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