The humble marine worms used to catch fish are some of the most valuable items to come out of the sea, new research shows.
For the first time, scientists have calculated the size and value of this overlooked industry. They estimate 121,000 tons of worms—worth nearly £6 billion (or about $7.5 billion in U.S. dollars)—are used for bait each year worldwide, most of these dug out of beaches and tidal flats. For comparison, that’s more than three times the annual revenue generated by the U.S. sushi industry. The estimate is especially impressive since it pertains to the use of various types of marine worms in the ocean, and doesn’t include freshwater fishing or the use of other live bait such as fish.
These worms are “more expensive than any [seafood] you can think of,” says Gordon Watson, a researcher at the University of Portsmouth. Bloodworms, for example, used to catch fish like striped bass, will put you back more than $80 per pound in the United States, about four times the price of lobster.
Some of the most popular baits include ragworms, lugworms, sandworms and bloodworms. Fishermen use these to catch many different types of fish, including bass, whitefish, cod and other sought-after species, Watson says.