By Watisoni Lalavanua
Since I began collecting bêche-de-mer (the traded form of sea cucumbers) data in the seafood markets of Hong Kong three days ago, I realized that a majority of the species from the Pacific were the high-value species, such as white teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva), black teatfish (Holothuria whitmaei), sandfish (Holothuria scabra) and golden sandfish (Holothuria lessoni). Golden sandfish has gone locally extinct from many parts of Fiji, none being sold anymore in the local Suva market.
But where do the medium and low value species go if they are not being sold in Hong Kong?
We took a 4 hour bus ride crossing the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, to Guangzhou to find the Yi de lu seafood market. With a population of 15 million, Guangzhou is the third largest city in China. After encountering a few difficulties when arriving at the border and having to reason with a local taxi driver who tried to rip us off by doubling the taxi fare, we managed to arrive safely at Guangdong Victory Hotel.
In typical research fashion, we ignored the fading light and headed straight to the Yi de lu markets. There we found dried sea cucumbers, or bêche-de-mer, were sold beside other seafood products such as abalone, shrimp, prawn, fish maw and the famous shark fin. We found that where many of the medium and the low-value species end up in Yi de lu for sale.
Since Hong Kong is the main entree point in South China, bêche-de-mer from the Pacific is exported directly to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong markets retain the high-value species and high-quality products and re-export the medium and the low-value species to Yi de lu markets. Anyone following the market chain of this lucrative industry will need to make sure they spend time in both Hong Kong and mainland China to get the full picture.