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Session I

Status of resources and utilization


Present status of world sea cucumber resources and utilisation: an international overview

Chantal Conand

Université de La Réunion, Saint Denis messag, La Réunion, France

Abstract

In this report the data on traditional and recent world-wide tropical and temperate sea cucumber fisheries for the last decade (1992-2001) are summarised. The data are based on FAO statistics, from various issues of the Beche-de-mer Bulletin and other available publications. There has been an increase in interest for this benthic resource and an expansion of the fisheries as a whole. Numerous sea cucumber fisheries are witnessing conflicts among the fishermen, processors and the authorities managing the resources. The processed products are generally exported from the producing countries to Hong Kong SAR (China), Singapore and Taiwan (Province of China), all three important Asian markets for sea cucumber as well as being ports for re-exporting to other markets such as China mainland. These trade flow mechanisms, particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong SAR (China), are difficult to quantify and to keep track of as products are re-exported based on regional demand and quality. The analysis of various qualitative indices clearly shows that over-exploitation is becoming obvious on a world-wide scale as the demand for trepang increases. In support of a sustainable utilisation of the resource an efficient management plan of action has become a priority that should take into account all the different levels of the "Holothurian system" described. This presentation will help set the general and current picture on the state of affairs within this industry. The need for further actions is emphasized particularly with regards to the development of standardised stock assessment methodologies and collection of statistical data.

Keywords: Holothurian, sea cucumber, trepang, world fishery, market, management

Introduction

The most important sea cucumber product is the dried body wall which is marketed as beche-de-mer (trepang or hai-som) (FAO, 1990) (Figure 1). In some countries medicines are produced, for example "gamat oil" in Malaysia (Baine & Choo, 1999). The status of the world holothurian fisheries has been presented and updated several times (FAO, 1990; Conand, 1998, 2001; Conand and Byrne, 1993). Holothurian fisheries are mostly based on about thirty species amongst the more than one thousand existing aspidochirote holothurians. Beche-de-mer fisheries have a long history, as the Chinese have sought sea cucumbers for a long time and there are many old stories about holothurians in the Japanese literature. During the 18th and 19th centuries, traders gathered them in a wider area with a "boom and bust" mentality and overexploitation started in several places. Nevertheless these fisheries are still poorly documented and, in many cases, not managed.

During the last decade (1992-2001), from the FAO statistics and other sources, it appears that the interest in these resources has increased markedly in different directions, through: 1) an increased demand for product; 2) a spatial extension of these fisheries, 3) developments in mariculture in many countries which are regularly presented in the Beche-de-mer Bulletins, and 4) an increased interest in the resource biology and management and the desire to disseminate the information obtained more widely. These goals have greatly benefited from the SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community), as the Information Section produces Information Bulletins, such as the one on sea cucumbers, The Beche-de-mer Bulletin. This bulletin also provides an international network. The analysis of the contents of the 18 bulletin issues points out the widening interest on this subject. The 'Advances in Sea Cucumber Aquaculture and Management' (ASCAM) workshop organized by FAO (2003) will help set the general and current picture on the state of affairs within this industry. The need for further actions will be emphasised particularly with regards to the development of standardised stock assessment methodologies, collection of statistical data and development of mariculture and restocking.

Figure 1. Beche-de-mer high quality products; 1 H. nobilis, 2 H. scabra - small, 3 H. scabra - large, 4 H scabra versicolor.

The whole "Holothurian Fishery System" has been presented earlier (Conand & Byrne, 1993; Conand, 1998, 2001), using the example of the tropical Indo-Pacific fishery for beche-de-mer. The five levels of this system between the resource on the sea-floor and the plate of the consumer are very important both for fishery evaluations and for durable management. At each level and between the levels, different participants intervene.

Commercial sea cucumber species are harvested according to the main geographical areas. In general, more interest has been given to the biology of the species targeted in traditional fisheries than to more recent ones. Despite the abundance and the large size of these animals and their importance in benthic communities, little information is published on their population biology compared with other living marine resources.

The fisheries can be presented according to the geographical area and the species harvested. Tropical fisheries from the Indo-Pacific are multi-specific, whereas temperate fisheries are generally mono-specific. Traditional tropical fisheries in the Western-Pacific and Indian Oceans produce dry product. Recently, some countries have started exploitations on the Eastern-Pacific coasts. Temperate fisheries for fresh or frozen product were long limited to the North-Western Pacific Ocean and there are now other countries interested. Fishery statistics have been collected from several sources, including producer countries (catch and export statistics) and international FAO data (annual yearbooks for catches, 1992 to 2001). These data are synthesised for the last decade to show where most product originates and what are the new trends. The gaps or inaccuracies will be discussed to help formulate recommendations for a future better fishery knowledge and management.

World fisheries in 2001

Table 1 and Figure 2 present the main world fisheries by regions and by country from FAO data (FAO, 2003) and other sources for the period 1992 to 2001. It is important to separate the fisheries into groups to better analyse their characteristics, with on the one hand tropical and temperate fisheries and on the other hand traditional and recent fisheries. The first analysis will look at the more recent data (2001).

Traditional tropical fisheries from the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans

Tropical fisheries in the Indian (refer to IOW in Table 1) and Western Pacific (refer to PWC & IOE in Table 1) produce dry product in two main regions: Western Central Pacific (which is the main producing region in the world) and Indian Ocean.

Western Central Pacific - Indonesia was always the major world producer and exporter of beche-de-mer product with 2 280 tonnes from the Pacific coast and 970 tonnes from the Indian Ocean, (which corresponds to more than 32 500 tonnes fished, as statistics generally refer to processed products). Tuwo (in press) describes the situation of the fishery using the example of Sulawesi. Local consumption by Chinese people in Indonesia is not evaluated, but probably does not exceed a few hundred tonnes.

The Philippines were considered once as the second largest producer in the world with a "boom" around 1996 (Schoppe, 2000), but catches have fallen to 800 tonnes (dry weight) in 2001 according to FAO. It appears however to be somewhat higher as presented by Gamboa et al. (2004).

In Malaysia the situation is complex, as the country appears simultaneously to be a producer, exporter, importer, and consumer and the product appears under different categories (live, fresh or chilled and frozen) (Baine and Choo, 1999). The data do not appear any more in FAO statistics, but Choo (2004) shows that in 2001 the fishery is important in Sabah, while in Peninsular Malaysia stichopodids are exploited for their medicinal properties (gamat products).

Many Pacific Islands exploit sea cucumber traditionally. The FAO statistics in 2001 show the predominance of Papua New Guinea (Polon, in press), Fiji and New Caledonia. However for this last territory the FAO data are one order of magnitude higher than the local detailed statistics (provided by species, date of export and exporter; Hoffschir, pers. comm.); this inaccuracy of the data referring either to fresh or processed product is a very important source of error and has to be checked in many statistics.

Australia has an old fishery history; overexploitation has long been recognised before the fishery for black teat fish was closed on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 (Uthicke, 2004). Different agencies are now committed to ecological sustainability as in Northern Australia (Shelley and Puig, 2004) and the interest has also increased in Western Australia (Shiell, 2004).

Table 1. Beche-de-mer production and Apostichopus japonicus catches by country for the period 1992-2001 (metric tonnes - dry weight except for A. japonicus).

Production (tonnes dry weight except for A. japonicus)


FAO region(1)

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

Mean

Holothurioidea

Chile

P SE

237

13

4

106

115

1

30

108

1 510

107

223

Cuba









20

20

13


Ecuador

P EC

29

12

12

12

12

12

15

15

15

15

15

Egypt

IOW






-


-

20

139

16

Fiji

P WC

447

191

400

835

850

790

400

880

800

824

642

Indonesia

IOE





269

338

630

689

903

970

380

Indonesia

P WC

3 130

2 364

3 130

2 562

2 800

2 800

2 428

1 928

2 138

2 280

2 556

Solomon

PWC

715

720

700

700

750

203

253

376

48

50

452

Kenya

IOW

277

14

41

55

15

41

38

15

30

13

54

Kiribati

PWC





-

136

154

89

64

60

50

Madagascar

IOW

423

450

1 800

1 800

1 800

1 800

482

500

500

500

1 006

Malaysia

PWC

...

...

...

...

...

...






Maldives

IOW

119

72

66

94

145

318

85

54

205

226

138

Mexico

PEC






-

271

234

426

481

141

Mozambique

IOW

0

0

0

6

54

7

2

8

12

12

10

New Caledonia

PWC

1 090

777

798

480

493

565

402

493

615

489

620

New Zealand

PSW

0

0

0

4

1

0




2

1

Palau

PWC

2

2

2

2

6

7

7

6



3

Papua New Guinea

PWC

600

650

600

640

650

1 515

2 037

1 185

1 824

1 453

1 115

Spain

M





4

4

4

1

9

4

3

Philippines

PWC

3 679

3 109

1 497

2 062

2 123

1 191

830

849

730

791

1 686

Sri Lanka

IOW

65

65

92

100

100

272

203

170

145

120

133

Tanzania

IOW

535

980

1 591

1 460

1 644

1 527

1 800

189

372

340

1 044

Tonga

PWC

...

...

...

...

86

80

90




26

Canada

PNE

0

0

1 505

0

1 288






279

USA

ANW





1 288? (2)


2 406

3 504

4 309

1 504

1 301

USA

PNE

481

472

636

729

491



228

274

300

361

Vanuatu

PWC

39

40

40

50

45

50

50

50

50

50

46

Yemen

IOW

48

65

63

60

60



1



30

Total Holothuroidea


11 916

9 996

12 977

11 757

13 801

11 657

12 617

11 592

15 019

10 743

12 331

Apostichopus japonicus

Japan

PNW

6 072

5 996

6 106

6 602

7 226

7 160

6 952

6 662

6 957

7 229

6 696

Korea Rep.

PNW

1 583

2 068

2 117

1 892

1 979

2 217

1 439

1 204

1 419

900

1 682

China











358


Total A. japonicus

7 655


8 064

8 223

8 494

9 205

9 377

8 391

7 866

8 376

8 487

8 378

(1): ANW: Atlantic, Northwest; IOE: Indian Ocean, Eastern; IOW: Indian Ocean, Western; M: Mediterranean and Black Sea; PEC: Pacific, Eastern Central; PNE: Pacific, Northeast; PNW: Pacific, Northwest; PSE: Pacific, Southeast; PSW: Pacific, Southwest; PWC: Pacific, Western Central.

(2): This amount is either for Canada either for USA and therefore not included in the total figure.

Indian Ocean Countries - In the Eastern Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka and India are traditional producers (120 tonnes dry weight in 2001 for Sri Lanka). The Maldives has been an important newcomer since 1988, and in 2001 the production is very high with 226 tonnes dry weight.

Figure 2. Beche-de-mer production (tonnes) in bold, for 2001, according to FAO zones and different data. *captures (tonnes) for Zone

In the Western Indian Ocean, many African and Arabic countries produce and export beche-de-mer on a regular basis. In 2001, Madagascar (500 tonnes dry weight) and Tanzania (340 tonnes dry weight) were the leaders. The problems encountered and the projects for a better management are presented (Mmbaga and Mgaya, 2004; Rasolofonirina and Jangoux, 2004). Other countries such as Egypt (Lawrence et al., 2004) and the Seychelles (Aumeerudy and Rondolph Payet, 2004) have recently started the exploitation. As elsewhere, they are rapidly experiencing problems in the evaluation and the management of the resources.

Other tropical fisheries

An increasing interest has developed in different tropical countries along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In these regions the biodiversity is less than in the tropical Indo-West Pacific; these fisheries are therefore concentrating only on one or a few species.

Along the East Pacific coasts, in Ecuador and Galapagos Islands, the fishery for Stichopus fuscus has brought many debates (see Martinez, 2001 and other contributions in the Beche-de-mer Bulletins). A participatory management program to assess the resource has been initiated in Galapagos (Toral-Granda and Martinez, 2004; Altamirano and Toral-Granda, 2004). In Chile, a fishery exists for a denchirote species but it is very poorly documented (Ravest Presa, 2000); the FAO statistics show 107 tonnes in 2001 after a peak of 1 510 tonnes in 2000; it is not clear if these data are fresh or dried weights. The same problem arises with the data of the fishery from this coast of Mexico which peak in 2001 with 442 tonnes and causes socio-economic problems (Ibarra and Soberon, 2002).

On the Atlantic coast, the Mexican fishery seems less active (39 tonnes in 2001), while Venezuela does not appear in the statistics. The fishery started in the 1990s with legal and illegal activities in which Korean entrepreneurs were involved (Rodriguez-Millet and Pauls, 1998). Cuba is another example of a very recent fishery that was monitored from its beginning (Alfonso et al., 2004).

Temperate fisheries

The temperate fisheries are more or less mono-specific, based essentially on Apostichopus japonicus in the Western Pacific (refer to PNW in Table 1) and on Parastichopus californicus in the Eastern Pacific (refer to PEC in Table 1).

Traditional Western Pacific temperate fisheries in the East Pacific comprise the Japanese fisheries particularly important in Hokkaido, presented by Akamine (2004), the Chinese fisheries presented by Jiaxin (2004) (and also includes smaller Korean fisheries and Russian fisheries). They are largely for fresh product and are therefore presented separately in the capture figures (Conand, 1998). The FAO statistics indicate 7 229 tonnes (2001) production for Japan and only 900 tonnes for Korea.

In the Eastern Pacific fisheries have developed in the United States (Alaska, Washington State and California) (Bradbury, 1997; Bradbury et al., 1998) and Canada (British Columbia) for beche-de-mer and fresh frozen products, where the five longitudinal muscles are stripped from the body wall and frozen for export to Japan and Taiwan (Province of China). The body wall is then processed into beche-de-mer for export. The dive fishery is controlled by the Department of Fisheries, USA. Recent research on the biology of P. californicus provides a scientific basis for the management of the fishery. Limited-entry legislation was also approved in 1990 and the number of boats licensed declined (Conand, 1998).

The FAO statistics for 2001 give 300 tonnes for USA, but Canada does not appear.

In the Northwest Atlantic, the FAO statistics for 2001 give 1 5 04 tonnes for USA which is very important and not well documented, and again Canada does not appear.

Trends for the last decade (1992-2001)

The data presented in Table 1 show the statistics for that decade. Earlier data can also be compared to extend the period (FAO, 1990; Conand, 1998, 2001; Conand and Byrne, 1993) to analyse the trends on a longer time frame. The following main trends appear according to the main producer countries which do not have domestic markets for beche-de-mer.

In Indonesia, as in other countries, the production appears to be regularly increasing since 1988-89 (Tuwo, 2004). The Philippines seems to show a marked decrease since 1992.

The Maldives has presented a huge increase in 1997 (318 tonnes), followed by a steep drop for two years and then a more recent increase; these fluctuations seem characteristic of unregulated sea cucumber fisheries, and likely to soon experience overexploitation.

The production of the tropical countries has not significantly declined during the decade, as new countries (Egypt, Kiribati, and Cuba) compensate for the decrease of some traditional producers. Landings by traditional temperate countries (mostly Japan and the Republic of Korea) show little changes from 1992 to 2001. The recent extensions of the fisheries into the South Eastern tropical Pacific (Chile) and tropical Atlantic (Cuba) are noticeable. An interesting point is the conflict between users which are reported inside a country, as well as between countries. Illegal fishing is an important problem of management, as capture of sea cucumber often occurs in marine reserves. It appears that developments of the recent fisheries raise more controversies and conflicts than the traditional ones, probably as people are now more aware of conservation needs.

World markets: quantities and prices

The world beche-de-mer market is largely controlled by Chinese traders (FAO, 1990; Conand, 1989, 1994, 2001). Trends in the quantity and value appear from statistics for the three main markets, Hong Kong SAR (China), Singapore and Taiwan (Province of China). These markets are also the major re-exporting centres. Trade statistics can be collected from several sources including main markets (data for import and re-export from Hong Kong SAR,

Singapore and Taiwan Province of China) and international FAO trade data (annual yearbooks for commodities from 1988 to 1998). The reliability of some data remains doubtful.

Hong Kong SAR (China) is still the major world market. Singapore is the second most important market and it appears rather stable. Its major suppliers come from the Indian Ocean (Tanzania, Madagascar), but Papua New Guinea is also significant. Taiwan (Province of China) is the third largest market. The trade statistics are very detailed, the sea cucumbers appearing under many categories such as: "live, fresh or chilled", "frozen", "dried spiked", "dried not spiked" and "dried other".

The interactions between the markets with the reciprocal exchanges between Hong Kong SAR (China), Singapore and Taiwan (Province of China) are not easy to understand and this complicates the evaluation of catches from the market data. In fact the same product can appear twice, or even three times, in the imports if it has been re-exported. The general flux is always from Singapore to Hong Kong SAR (China). The reciprocal exchanges between Taiwan (Province of China) and the other markets are limited.

The recent trends are presented by Ferdouse (2004) following previous papers (Ferdouse, 1999).

Discussion and conclusion

Overexploitation and sustainable management

Although sea cucumbers have been exploited for a several hundred years, the resource is fragile. The world fishery and market statistics are generally not sufficiently detailed and trustworthy to give evidence of overexploitation, thus qualitative signs of overexploitation must also be looked for, amongst the trends and changes. Baine (in press) discusses the problems associated with the collation of the statistics on catches, effort and trade, using published information and an exploratory questionnaire.

In Madagascar, for example, detailed information (Conand et al., 1998; Rasolofonirina and Jangoux, 2004) has been obtained during the Environment Programme of the Indian Ocean Commission (EU/COI). Fishing pressure seems very high nowadays, a fact also apparent from market and FAO data. Evaluation and management programmes have started locally through the collaboration between the administration, traders and the scientists. A National Trepang Traders Group (ONET) was set up in 1996. The follow up of this experience or the reasons why it collapsed is of interest for other countries. In a regional context, holothurians are one of the resources studied to develop a durable management system. Some qualitative indications are apparent from these fisheries: 1) all species, available on reef flats or in shallow waters, regardless of size or commercial interest, are collected, including rare and unidentified species, for example Bohadschia atra has been found during sampling surveys (Massin et al., 1999); 2) SCUBA divers are complaining that they have to dive deeper and look for other fishing grounds, and diving accidents have increased markedly; 3) the sizes of the different species (and the processed products) are diminishing; and 4) strong competition appears among collectors, leading to a decline in processing quality. These observations, found at different levels of the "fishery system" are indicative of overexploitation. Similar experiences of "integrated management" seem to start in different countries, but will they be durable?

Plan of Action

A plan of action is now necessary with several components: assessment of stocks, improvement of statistics, improvement of collecting and processing procedures, legislation for management and farming experiments (Figure 3). The durable management of the fisheries requires production models that combine data on fishery activity, on population dynamics of the species targeted and on socio-economic aspects, the latter being particularly important for these small artisanal activities. The paucity of data on catches, as well as on biomass, is the main reason why management generally does not exist on a durable basis. In a few countries, regulations (generally bans) are introduced when overexploitation has already occurred and the regeneration of the stock is therefore long and difficult and when there is some illegal fishing.

Figure 3. Action Plan for the different levels of the "Holothurian System "

Fishery system

Management actions

1 Natural resources of commercial species

1a Research on biology and stock assessment
1b Hatcheries - production of juveniles
1c Sea ranching - mariculture

2 Fishermen catches collected by wading, snorkelling, scuba diving

2a Respect of fishery legislations: size (bans of juveniles), period, zones, national or international (CITES?) legislations
2b Collection of standardized statistics
2c Education

3 Processing by fishermen or processors

3a Improving the quality during all phases of processing
3b Storage, grading
3c Education

4 Fishery services national, then international trade

4a Communication between the actors
4b Storage, grading
4c Standardized statistics
4d Access to information - legislations

5 Import and consumption

5 Information on market regulations and preferences

The resource level - The life history traits and the ecology of the populations of many of the commercial species are still poorly documented. Very little is known concerning larval stages, recruitment, growth and mortality of most species, temperate as well as tropical. Many species appear to be slow-growing and very vulnerable and the stocks are therefore fragile. This basic biological knowledge is also needed for any mariculture programme.

More research to quantify the population parameters is still necessary. Previous studies have shown that the holothurian resource is very vulnerable and that the maximum sustainable yields for tropical species are probably low, between 2 and 30 kg per hectare per year, depending on the species (Conand, 1989) or even less (Uthicke, 2004). More studies are needed on these multi-specific tropical fisheries. Stock assessments are necessary in most regions and must take into account the variety of habitats and the different commercial species. The use of marine reserves for comparative evaluations (Schroeter et al., 2001; Uthicke, 2004; Lawrence et al., 2004) seems promising.

The fishermen level - At this level, fishery regulations, sometimes empirical, exist in some countries often based on a minimal export size of the processed product. This is applicable in mono-specific fisheries, but should be based on biological parameters when concerning several species. Other regulations, as for other resources, concern limitations of catches (by quotas or zone rotation or period of closure), or the access to the fishery by permits.

The processor level - It is important to emphasise the importance of the processing (Conand, 1999). The methods used are very important for the profitability of the activity. Many countries should be more aware on how important good processing is to the viability of the industry.

The fishery services, trade and custom and international levels - It appears that the number of producing countries has recently increased both in tropical and temperate regions, but catch records are still incomplete. It remains important to improve collection and standardisation of statistics at the different levels of the "Holothurian system", at national as well as international levels. At the international level, for the first time officially, CITES has become involved (Bruckner, 2003; Baine, 2004). A number of consequences and issues must be considered carefully and discussions are needed.

In conclusion, despite an important increase in interest during the last decade by the scientific community, the managers and the users, further studies are needed on different issues for a durable exploitation of sea cucumbers. They should focus on biology and ecology of the species, economics and management and protection of the stocks by alternative solutions (Purcell, 2004). The recent conflicts appearing within, or between, several countries is interpreted as a sign of overexploitation of the resource and of a high level of demand. The management has to be appropriate for each case and stock assessments are needed. Some fishery regulations are urgently needed (followed by close monitoring) to limit the present depletion of most stocks. Development of networks and discussions will help improve management of these important resources.

Acknowledgements

I sincerely thank Alessandro Lovatelli and FAO for the organisation of the ASCAM workshop which gives the opportunity to exchange ideas and raises the possibility of preparing plans of actions for durable management.

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Ibarra, A.A. & Soberon, G.R. 2002. Economic reasons, ecological actions and social consequences in the Mexican sea cucumber fishery. Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin, 17:33-36.

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Tuwo, A. 2004. Status on sea cucumber fisheries and farming in Indonesia. In: Advances in sea cucumber aquaculture and management. A. Lovatelli, C. Conand, S. Purcell, S. Uthicke, J.-F. Hamel and A. Mercier, (Eds.). FAO, Rome. (Present document).

Uthicke, S. 2004. Overfishing of holothurians: lessons from the Great Barrier Reef. In: Advances in sea cucumber aquaculture and management. A. Lovatelli, C. Conand, S. Purcell, S. Uthicke, J.-F. Hamel and A. Mercier, (Eds.). FAO, Rome. (Present document).


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