Credits: Alessandro Lovatelli

International trade in sea cucumber (bêche-de-mer) is considered by CITES a significant conservation issue, particularly considering the poor status of sea cucumber fisheries management worldwide. Ecuador is currently the only country that has listed a species of sea cucumber (Isostichopus fuscus) in CITES Appendix III, in an attempt to control the overfishing of the species resulting from illegal international trade.

CITES held in March 2004 a technical workshop to consider and review biological and trade information to assist establishing conservation priorities for sea cucumbers. Results from the workshop were not conclusive on the value of a CITES listing because of insufficient information at that stage to base an evaluation of the conservation benefits of such listing. It was however recommended that further CITES considerations for certain species and countries be examined. Attention by CITES since then has been on the development of recommendations for Parties to improve the conservation of sea cucumber stocks. At CoP14 Parties adopted a decision that brings to the specific attention of FAO the need to increase efforts to address current challenges in the sustainable management of sea cucumber fisheries.

At the 26th Session of COFI, several Members suggested that it would be beneficial for FAO to develop a sea cucumber management strategy and to review the global status of that taxonomic group. Through the Trust Fund Project "CITES and Commercially-exploited Aquatic Species” FAO has initiated several activities aimed at improving knowledge and capacity for the management of commercially exploited sea cucumber species. The activities include:

  • the review and analysis of the available information on the global status of commercially-exploited sea cucumber stocks and on any 'hot spots' where management action may be particularly urgent;
  • the production of guides to facilitate the identification of sea cucumber species and products in trade;
  • the development of technical guidelines for the sustainable management of sea cucumber fisheries;
  • the implementation of a case study on the evaluation of the social, economic and biological status of the sea cucumber fishery in the Eritrean Red Sea coast.

Several outputs of relevance to the conservation and sustainable use of sea cucumber resources were produced in recent years, including:

A global review of fisheries and trade in sea cucumbers (2008)

Guidelines for the management of sea cucumber fisheries with an ecosystem approach (2010)

Simplified guidelines for putting into practice an ecosystem approach to managing sea cucumber fisheries (2010)

Identification guide for 58 species of sea cucumbers that are commonly exploited around the world (2012).

Dedicated workshops to foster improved management plans for sea cucumber fisheries were also organized by FAO, in collaboration with regional organizations in the Pacific (Nadi, Fiji, 15–18 November 2011) and Indian (Mazizini, Zanzibar, the United Republic of Tanzania, 12–16 November 2012 ) oceans.

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