Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


World markets and trade flows of sea cucumber/beche-de-mer

Fatima Ferdouse


INFOFISH, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Abstract

The international trade structure for sea cucumber differs from the general trends in seafood. While its demand is restricted to Oriental Asians of Chinese origin, the market is also dominated by the same race. Sea cucumber species are mostly exported in dried form, but a small quantity of fresh and frozen sea cucumber also enters into international trade. Nearly 90 % of this trade takes place in the Asian Far East where China Hong Kong SAR and Singapore dominate the business and China PR remains the main consuming country. The niche markets located outside Asia are strongly linked with trading houses in these two markets. Regular supply of this seafood these days continues to remain in question and prices have increased over the years. However, it is interesting to observe the changes in consumption pattern of this highly traditional product outside China.

Keywords: Beche-de-mer, trade, demand, supply, price, Southeast Asia, Far East

Introduction

Sea cucumbers are fascinating aquatic invertebrates rather popular among the Mongoloid races who mostly reside in the eastern part of Asia. Hence nearly 90 % of sea cucumber harvested globally is consumed in Southeast Asia and the Far East. The international trade of these species is also dominated by this region. However, with increasing migration and relocation of Oriental people to outside Asia, some exports are taking place to North American and Western European markets with sizeable Oriental populations.

In Asia, the main markets for sea cucumber are China PR, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan PC, Singapore, Korea Rep. and Malaysia. Imports into Japan, the largest seafood market in the world, are rather limited. China Hong Kong SAR, the largest direct importer of sea cucumber, re-exports half of its imports to mainland China. Re-exports also take place to European and North American markets. Singapore meets its domestic demand through imports. This trading nation also re-exports to the regional markets namely China Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia, Taiwan PC, Thailand, Myanmar and to some western countries.

In international trading, sea cucumbers are marketed in fresh/chilled, frozen, dried and canned forms. More than 90 % of these are dried products.

International trade

Due to lack of available trade data on sea cucumber from both exporting and importing countries, it is difficult to quantify the international trade of these species accurately in volume or in value terms (Ferdhouse, 1996). Re-exports and subsequent double reporting of trade figures also make the authenticity of available data doubtful in some cases, particularly in quantitative calculation (FAO, 1990). The fact is, few exporting countries classify sea cucumber trade separately in their national statistics. Hence the problems of under reporting and double reporting exist.

World imports

According to FAO (2003), the global imports of fresh, frozen and dried sea cucumber (including salted in brine, but excluding canned products) totalled 7 299 tonnes in quantity and US$ 56.7 million in value in 2001 (Table 1). However, the same source also reports other trade data under the heading 'imports of fresh, frozen, dried and canned sea cucumber and other invertebrates'. Under this heading the global imports of these categories of products totalled 34 000 tonnes at a value of US$ 130 million. Presumably, the figures differ because of the inclusion of the "other invertebrates " in this category (Table 2). It is noteworthy that imports of sea cucumber into Singapore in any forms were not reported in these trade figures.

Table 1. World imports of sea cucumber, fresh/frozen/dried/salted/ in brine, 1995-2001 (Q=tonnes; V=US$'000).

Country


1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

China PR

Q
V

-
-

49
49

1
3

9
30

139
265

186
793

2 059
1 229

Hong Kong (China)

Q
V

5 789
40 898

5 020
43 376

4 523
38 147

3 975
39 565

2 922
33 571

4 759
55 533

4 382
50 430

Japan

Q
V

25
799

10
350

5
134

5
163

4
121

3
141

3
81

Korea, Rep.

Q
V

7
128

36
154

16
302

2
23

10
68

29
127

51
400

Malaysia

Q
V

521
755

358
564

-
4

00
00

21
34

32
24

2
16

Singapore

Q
V

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

Taiwan PC

Q
V

1 273
5 792

1 079
5 327

1 014
5 291

859
4 549

899
4 735

887
4514

676
3 979

Thailand

Q
V

32
102

32
90

71
446

78
282

75
417

133
528

115
504

World total (incl. others)

Q
V

7 653
48 507

6 597
49 987

5 630
44 327

4 946
44 620

4 079
39 331

6 040
61 691

7 299
56 722

Source: FAO FISHDAB, 2003.

Nonetheless, referring to the national statistics of major importing countries, Table 1 seems to be more realistic and this reflects the trade of the main product forms namely fresh/chilled, frozen and most of all dried. The international trading of canned sea cucumber is rather small compared to the other product forms.

Table 2. World imports of sea cucumber & other invertebrates, fresh/chilled/frozen/dried/salted/canned, 1995-2001 (Q=tonnes; V=US$'000).

Country


1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

Belgium

Q
V

608
3 168

766
3 644

733
3 209

586
2 709

765
3 320

906
3 456

951
3 269

China PR

Q
V

-
-

49
49

1
3

9
30

139
265

186
793

2 059
1 229

France

Q
V

7 257
17 282

6 825
15 739

8 384
19 606

7 744
20 550

7 739
20 094

7 561
21 091

8 966
26 862

Germany

Q
V

768
3 520

1 024
4 788

1 014
4 195

1 076
4 332

1 814
6 126

2 221
6 137

2 108
6 114

Hong Kong (China)

Q
V

5 789
40 898

5 020
43 376

4 523
38 147

3 975
39 565

2 922
33 571

4 759
55 533

4 382
50 430

Japan

Q
V

25
799

10
350

5
134

5
163

4
121

3
141

3
81

Korea, Rep.

Q
V

6 947
26 915

7 423
27 943

8 436
30 090

3 196
9 161

4 504
13 591

5 460
13 968

6 474
16 790

Malaysia

Q
V

1 479
2 474

770
1 195

74
64

259
136

236
162

218
126

52
57

Spain

Q
V

2 034
7 363

2 503
6 377

2 929
6 796

3 649
9 078

3 024
6 404

3 761
8 413

4 301
10 653

Taiwan PC

Q
V

2 620
7 940

3 056
8 666

2 700
8 103

2 322
6 425

2 512
7 330

2 360
6 794

1 649
5 690

Thailand

Q
V

32
102

32
90

71
446

78
282

75
417

133
528

115
504

Singapore

Q
V

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

-
-

World total
(incl. others)

Q
V

29 570
119 893

29 882
124 263

30 667
120 102

25 646
100 342

26 187
101 493

29 718
124 737

34 116
130 508

Source: FAO FISHDAB, 2003.

World Exports

The latest trade figures published by FAO on global exports are much lower than the import figures due to lack of published data from exporting countries (Table 3). For example, according to official statistics of China Hong Kong SAR, the territory itself imported over 4 000 tonnes of dried sea cucumber against the available global figure of 1 450 tonnes in the year 2001.

Nonetheless, the Asia/Pacific region is the main source of sea cucumber with the leading exporters being Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Australia in order of ranking. More recently, supplies from the Middle East, namely the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and some African countries (Mozambique, Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa) are also entering the markets, mostly being sent to Asian markets. More than 98 % of these exports consist of dried products.

Although China PR remains the major market and consuming country for sea cucumber, China Hong Kong SAR is the main trading outlet for most of the producing countries. Lately, some direct exports are taking place to China PR, but these mostly consist of lower value species. The expensive varieties, namely the sandfish, white teatfish, etc., are exported through China Hong Kong SAR and Singapore.

In 2000, Indonesia, the largest producer, exported over 2 500 tonnes of sea cucumber to the global market. Nearly 50 % of these went to China Hong Kong SAR, followed by Singapore, China PR, Taiwan PC, Korea Rep. and Malaysia; a small quantity went to Japan. France is the main outlet for Indonesian sea cucumber in Europe, importing 83 tonnes from Indonesia in 2000. The other markets were the UK (6 tonnes), Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, etc. Imports into Belgium and Germany were about 8 tonnes each. In North America, the USA was the main outlet, importing 50 tonnes of dried sea cucumber in 2000.

Table 3. World exports of sea cucumber, fresh/frozen/dried/salted in brine, 1995-2001 (Q=tonnes; V=US$'000).

Country


1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

China PR

Q

-

16

11

21

88

298

653

V

-

296

98

99

209

612

845

Hong Kong (China)

Q

31

116

-

-

-

53


V

88

200

-

19

-

108

-

Cuba

Q

-

-

-

-

-

21

14

V

-

-

-

-

-

452

351

Fiji Islands

Q

454

666

862

127

141

-

1

V

3 978

4 071

2 781

1 171

1 379

-

32

French Polynesia

Q

-

-

-

2

1

-

-

V

1

-

-

14

13

-

7

India

Q

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

V

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Indonesia

Q

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

V

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Kiribati

Q

40

74

39

3

4

9

14

V

281

602

199

31

61

79

116

Korea, Rep.

Q

3

15

12

12

12

20

10

V

21

60

47

59

116

165

92

Madagascar

Q

317

279

162

-

-

-

-

V

1 254

751

452

-

-

-

-

Malaysia

Q

32

17

25

1

5

1

22

V

142

49

136

1

11

5

84

Maldives

Q

94

145

318

85

54

-

-

V

707

646

728

346

407

-

-

Marshall Islands

Q

-

55

29

-

-

-

-

V

-

432

312

-

-

-

-

Mozambique

Q

-

43

-

25

3

-

2

V

-

116

-

24

20

5

34

New Caledonia

Q

53

49

-

-

49

62

-

V

1 300

930

-

-

593

1 170

-

Nigeria

Q

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

V

-

-

-

-

-

-

6

Papua New Guinea

Q

-

-

453

-

379

-

-

V

-

-

3 861


3 332

-

-

Philippines

Q

1 459

1 469

1 297

-

1 125

-

-

V

4 803

4 827

4 505

-

3 653

-

-

Saint Helena

Q

-

6

-

-

-

-

-

V

-

58

-

-

-

-

-

Samoa

Q

29

32

9

3

-

-

-

V

80

70

34

5

-

-

-

Seychelles

Q

-

-

-

-

-

-

16

V

-

-

-

-

-

-

247

Singapore

Q

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

V

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Solomon Islands

Q

219

113

203

253

376

48

269

V

509

354

664

853

393

253

1 749

Sri Lanka

Q

188

176

307

213

104

-

96

V

2 028

2 936

6 352

4 260

2 547

-

1 936

Taiwan PC

Q

34

160

71

267

258

179

146

V

562

863

828

1 025

1,150

1 503

1 704

Tanzania

Q

263

296

254

873

93

-

-

V

359

438

685

201

262

-

-

Thailand

Q

12

8

40

87

225

242

121

V

48

56

129

160

320

857

432

Tonga

Q

109

86

-

-

-

-

1

V

911

719

-

-

-

-

7

United Arab Emirates

Q

-

3

22

-

-

11

-

V

-

19

70

-

3

161

1

Vanuatu

Q

-

20

35

25

8

-

16

V

-

123

121

130

33

-

102

Yemen

Q

-

6

-

-

-

-

77

V

-

138

-

-

-

-

374

World total

Q

3 337

3 890

4 149

1 999

2,925

944

1 459

V

17 072

18 908

22 002

8 498

14,505

5 370

8 122

Source: FAO FISHDAB, 2003.

From South Asia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India are the main producing/exporting countries. Compared to Southeast Asia and the Pacific, supplies from these countries are relatively small. The published data from India indicated that exports of dried sea cucumber declined from 32 tonnes in 1997 to 13 tonnes in 2001. Singapore was the main market for Indian dried sea cucumber followed by China Hong Kong SAR. Some exports also took place through Sri Lanka and to Canada. The Maldives exports less than 300 tonnes annually.

From the Pacific region, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Australia are the leading suppliers of dried sea cucumber to the Oriental markets. A review on the Hong Kong market indicated that supplies from Australia and the Solomon Islands increased during 2000-2002, but declined from PNG and Fiji. Sea cucumbers from the Pacific are the most popular in China Hong Kong SAR, China PR, Malaysia and Singapore.

Consumption

In general, consumption of sea cucumber is associated with high quality dried and prepared/preserved seafood such as shark fins, abalone and other shellfish which are popular among the people of Chinese origin worldwide. Hence, in most of the producing countries, domestic consumption of sea cucumber is almost zero, with the exception of China.

China is the largest market and consumer of sea cucumber. Unfortunately, the level of total annual supply in this market (including foreign supplies) is not yet known. Most of the imported sea cucumber in China PR comes through China Hong Kong SAR. The other major consuming countries and territories in the region are China Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan PC, Singapore and Malaysia.

In the minor markets in North America (USA and Canada) and Western Europe, consumption of sea cucumber is rather occasional compared to other seafood preferred by the Oriental people residing in those countries.

Review of major markets

China PR

China PR is the largest market for sea cucumber. However, the actual trend in the market is not reflected on the published data. The official trade statistics from China Hong Kong SAR indicated that re-exports to mainland varied between 2 000 and 3 500 tonnes annually during 2000-2002 (Table 5). In 2001, re-exports to China PR from China Hong Kong SAR were 3 543 tonnes.

The 2001 official statistics from China reported annual imports of 2 059 tonnes according to which only 13.50 tonnes came from Hong Kong (Table 4). Imports from Indonesia in that year were 1 146 tonnes - 50% of the total official imports in that year. The other major suppliers were the Philippines (791 tonnes), Korea Rep. (21 tonnes) and Thailand (56 tonnes). Minor supplies came from Canada (17 tonnes) and Russia (1.2 tonnes).

Taking into consideration the exports from China Hong Kong SAR to this market, the annual import into China PR could be around 5 500 tonnes. This shows the importance and supremacy of China PR in the international market for sea cucumber.

It is important to note that the market is capable of absorbing all kinds and qualities of sea cucumber due to the varied degrees of purchasing power. Per capita income of the population in southern provinces is much higher than the average national per capita income of the country. Hence both high and low valued species and different qualities of sea cucumbers are imported into China for domestic consumption.


Previous Page Top of Page Next Page