Press Release – Secretariat of the Pacific Community
Pacific communities harvesting sea cucumbers to supply the expanding Chinese middle-class could double their incomes, but only if they can avoid the current boom-bust cycles of harvest.Sea cucumber income could double for Pacific island countries — if they can beat the boom-bust cycle
7 March 2013
Pacific communities harvesting sea cucumbers to supply the expanding Chinese middle-class could double their incomes, but only if they can avoid the current “boom-bust” cycles of harvest.
This is the conclusion of a report presented this week (4-8 March) at the Pacific countries’ Heads of Fisheries meeting at the Secretariat of Pacific Community headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia.
The report studied the sea cucumber fisheries of five Pacific Island countries: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tonga.
The long-run average annual value generated from sea cucumber sales along the domestic supply chains in these countries is conservatively estimated as US$17 million, a significant boost for low-income coastal communities. The catch to these five countries is 80 per cent of the South Pacific trade.
The SPC study found this income could be doubled if fisheries management agencies can regulate fishers to harvest this resource at more sustainable levels.
“Over-exploitation of high value sea cucumber species, like Sandfish and White teatfish, has resulted in governments closing off fishing areas to allow the stock to recover,” says Crick Carleton from Nautilus Consultants. His study, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, sought to identify management measures for this important fishery.
SPC Fisheries Development Officer, Michael Sharp says fishers tend to take the valuable sea cucumbers first, then shift to exploit lower-value species once the valuable ones have been mostly fished out, leaving the fishery so depleted it struggles to recover.
“So it’s boom-bust, boom-bust. But each ‘boom’ is lower than the one before, because the sea cucumber fishery doesn’t get a chance to fully recover,” he says.
Dr Steven Purcell from Southern Cross University also spoke at the meeting. He says a recently published global analysis of sea cucumber fisheries found they were under similar pressures worldwide. This month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is set to list a small number of exploited species as threatened with extinction due to large, widespread declines in wild stocks.
“These tend to be the higher-value sea cucumber species,” he says. “And the listing will likely have ramifications for managing these species in the Pacific.”
The sea cucumber can be a steady money-spinner in the Pacific, but it has to be better controlled and better managed. Governments of Pacific countries need support to implement new management tools to curb the lure of a ‘quick buck’ by exporters and fishers, in order to build a stable industry with long-term prospects.
Better management of sea cucumber resources means restricting harvest of the more valuable species so their populations are maintained and larger size individuals are retained. It also means paying much more attention to the quality of processing.
Chinese markets pay more for larger thick skinned sea cucumbers or bêche-de-mer, as the processed and exported product is known. Bêche-de-mer is served as delicacies at weddings, New Year celebrations and other festivals.
“The average volume of the harvest would be much the same as now, but exporters would get far more for higher quality products,” says Mr Carleton. “It’s about management and exploiting the full potential of the market.”
Sea cucumber is the second largest fisheries export commodity from the Pacific after tuna. And while sea cucumber’s overall value is considerably less than for tuna, for many Island communities it is their only source of income and an important source of ready cash.
Mr Mike Batty, Director of SPC’s Fisheries Program, says: “If we can’t manage sea cucumber fisheries, then we can’t manage any other coastal fishery in the Pacific. It grows close to shore in shallow water.
“At a local level sea cucumber are easy to count and easy to monitor exports.
“It’s better for countries to fish sea cucumbers sustainably than to have to close off a fishery every five years.”
Youtube video about sea cucumber processing in the Pacific islands: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzxPlrQyw3Q
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community: www.spc.int/en