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Shedding light on deep-sea life

May 17, 2017

The oceans are filled with mysterious deep-sea creatures that are yet to be discovered. A fisherman in Japan has set out to use them in unique ways.

Suruga Bay is located along the Pacific coast of central Japan. This bay, at the foot of Mount Fuji, is where fisherman Hisashi Hasegawa makes his living.

He started catching deep-sea creatures 30 years ago.

The seafloor in Suruga Bay plunges suddenly, to a maximum depth of 2,500 meters. The waters are home to all kinds of deep-sea creatures.

On this day, he is fishing at a depth of 450 meters. It takes an hour for the long line to reach the seabed.

An hour later, Hasegawa starts hauling it back in. The line is 4 kilometers long, and takes roughly 3 hours to pull in.

"When I'm going to a fishing ground for the first time, there's no telling what I might catch. It's not like fishing with a pole and line. We can expect to pull up one fish after another. It's exciting to wait and see what comes up," he says.

Hasegawa lands a Matsubara's red rockfish, which has a rich taste and fetches a high price at the market.

One of his traps has caught giant isopods. The creature is known for helping clean the ocean by feeding on dead sea animals.

Many people come to Hasegawa seeking his catch. This day, staff members from the local aquarium are waiting at the port. They want to buy new species to display at their facility.

The catch of the day is snailfish. These fish usually live on the rocky seabed. They have suckers on their stomachs.

Hasegawa has also caught a blobfish. Once hauled in, water begins to dissolve from its skin. Only a few are caught each year.

"Mr. Hasegawa is the only fisherman who can send down baskets to catch fish at depths of 700 or 800 meters. We rely on him to keep the aquarium unique," says a staff member from the aquarium.

Hasegawa's deep-sea fish are also popular overseas.

An aquarium in Malaysia displays a giant isopod caught by Hasegawa.

"I'm interested in other species from Suruga Bay. In the future, I'd like to make a section dedicated to them," says the head of the aquarium.

The deep-sea creatures caught in Suruga Bay are also being used in other ways.

Hasegawa owns a restaurant specializing in dishes using them.

This is a type of king crab that lives at depths of 800 meters. The low temperatures and underwater pressure make its meat taste sweet, like milk. Giant isopods are also on the menu.

The deep sea is full of undiscovered food sources.

On this day's fishing trip, Hasegawa is accompanied by a French chef, Hitoki Atsumi, who's looking for new ingredients.

He is searching for interesting new tastes and textures to use in the kitchen.

Hasegawa catches a fish that Atsumi has been wanting.

"I knew it was an ugly fish, but I didn't think it would be this ugly!" he says.

A long, slimy creature is crawling inside the basket. It's a type of hagfish. It releases slime when it senses danger to escape predators. Atsumi plans to cook the fish at his restaurant.

"I've never eaten it before, so I don't know what it's like. I have to figure out how to prepare it from scratch. It's a real challenge," he says.

Back at his restaurant, Atsumi boils the fish and tastes it. He decides to cook the fish meuniere-style.

"The fish has a texture similar to animal fat."

"Delicious!" say the customers.

The fish could become a new delicacy from the deep waters of Suruga Bay.

Meanwhile, Hasegawa has been hoping to catch a particular type of deep-sea fish.

It's the gulper shark, used in a variety of health foods.

He hasn't had any luck since an earthquake shook Suruga Bay in 2009. Some experts say it may have prompted them to leave the area.

While Hasegawa searches the bay for gulper sharks, he stumbles across something he's never seen there.

"A whale! A whale! It's spouting water with Mount Fuji in the background. This is the first time I've seen this in more than 40 years. Such a huge whale in Suruga Bay right beside me! I'm going to catch a gulper shark today!"

Hasegawa saw the whale as a sign of good luck. But he's not spotting any sharks. Just as he's about to give up, he has finally managed to catch a long-awaited gulper shark.

"It's a battle of wits against deep-sea fish. As a fisherman, I have my ups and downs. But that's fine by me," he says.

Hasegawa is out at sea again today, as his quest to explore the mysteries of the deep sea continues.