Promoting better understanding of sea cucumber fisheries and the need for management in Oceania

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Our research team from Fiji and Australia had the opportunity to enlighten university students on fishing activities, stock conditions and socio-economics of artisanal sea cucumber fisheries in Oceania, through a seminar organised by grouper expert Dr. Yvonne Sadovy at the University of Hong Kong.

We wanted to share the results from two papers titled Trends in small scale artisanal fishing of sea cucumbers in Oceania which was published in the journal Fisheries Research ( and Multiple factors affect socio-economics and wellbeing of artisanal sea cucumber fishers, which will be coming out soon in the open-access journal PloS ONE.

Dr.-Purcell-presenting-on-the-consumption-of-sea-cucumbers. Photo: Guanlin Wang.

Dr Purcell-presenting-on-the-consumption-of-sea-cucumbers. Photo: Guanlin Wang.

Our work has shown that fishers invest a lot of time in travelling and fishing of sea cucumbers, and there are vast difference in catch composition between fisher men and fisher women. IN general, fishers believed that sea cucumber stocks are declining due to too many fishers in the fishery with about 50% of fishers being dissatisfied with the income they received from selling sea cucumbers. Many believe that if the fishery is closed for stock recovery, the main fall back income streams for fishers will be other fisheries with endangered species or are already depleted, such as turtles, sharks and other invertebrates like giant clams.

The most interesting portion of the seminar was the Q&A session. Some of the interesting questions received from the audience were:

  1. What are the management measures taken by Fiji in responding to the numbers of death due to the use of SCUBA for harvesting sea cucumbers?

The Ministry of Fisheries in Fiji is working very hard in pushing for the Fiji National Sea Cucumber Management plan to be passed through cabinet and the management plan does highlight the prohibition in the use of SCUBA.

  1. What were the main commodities for trade in Fiji before the sea cucumber trade in which Fiji can strengthen to help in the recovery of the depleted sea cucumber stocks?

Sea cucumber trade in Fiji is has a long history, it is believed to be the first commodities together with Sandalwood and therefore there were no other commodities before sea cucumber)

  1. Why is it difficult for some fishers to sell their catch?

This is due to remoteness of location, in which buyers can only come once a month due to the schedule of plane and ship to these locations and in the case for Kiribati, buyers doesn’t have enough money to buy the sea cucumbers that had already been harvested by fishers)

  1. Why bêche-de-mer in the Pacific is exported directly to Honk Kong and not to mainland China?

Hong Kong has tariff free trade for imported seafood compared to China in which tax is applied).

To improve management of the sea cucumber fisheries in the Pacific, a number of management measures were highlighted from our research which needed to be taken into consideration by fisheries managers. These management measures include “limited entry” of fishers into this fishery because there are already too many fishers operating in the fishery. Fishers openly acknowledge this. At the same time, management measures needs to consider gender differences in fishing and catches and any closing of the fishery needs to take into consideration the cascading effect this might have on other marine resources already been over-exploited.

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