15 June 2009

Vanishing sea cucumbers in the Philippines

A special report by the Manila Times reveals the complex issues surrounding sea cucumbers in the Philippines.
Garlic bread sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra)
Holothuria scabra on Singapore shores.

Sea cucumbers are facing extinction in the Philippines due to unregulated trade. A multimillion industry, it is the country’s fourth priority fishery commodity and eighth among its top fishery exports. The main market is to the Chinese; with Hong Kong as the largest importer, and Singapore a major importer too.

Increasing world demand, high prices and unregulated harvests threaten sea cucumbers everywhere. Of the 1,200 species known worldwide, about 100 species are found in the Philippines of which 25 species are commercially exploited.

They are also threatened by habitat degradation and resource depletion or declining catch; illegal cyanide and dynamite fishing; coastal siltation; increased fishing pressure; and weak law enforcement (there is no regulation regarding harvest size).

Only three major exporting countries have no national management or regulatory measures regarding the sea cucumber: the Philippines, Malaysia and Micronesia.

Other countries encourage sustainable sea cucumber fisheries through quota, size limit, gear restriction, limited licensing and so on. Others employ mariculture, sea ranching operation and restocking programs.

Sea cucumber is one of the most important and highly priced seafood products in the international market. The highest prices are paid for tropical sea cucumber species Holothuria scabra (sandfish) at US$110 a kilogram and Holothuria versicolor (golden sandfish) at US$130 to US$150 per kg.

Conservation is severely limited by a lack of scientific knowledge about them. There is no scientific names for many species that have otherwise common names in the Philippines. No molecular studies have been made. Knowledge of reproductive biology of commercially important species is lacking.

Sea cucumber farming is uncertain because technical know-how is lacking. The supply of juveniles for cultivation is limited. There are no commercial hatcheries and no reserved area for wild source.

Full articles on the issue are on the wildsingapore news blog.

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