Development of sea cucumber production in the Asia-Pacific Region

Update: 12/3/2013

Sea cucumbers like the sandfish species (Holothuria scabra) are a traditional commodity used for dietary and medicinal purposes in China and elsewhere in Asia.

For many years, their harvest has supported livelihoods in coastal communities throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Yet their ease of capture, biological vulnerability, and expanding consumer base in middle-income China has led to precipitous declines in wild stocks.

For example, in the Philippines, annual catches are now less than 30% of those enjoyed 25 years ago.

Unfortunately, restoration of sandfish fisheries is seldom achieved by simply imposing strict fishery management regimes, or even closures. When sedentary invertebrate populations are depleted, mates are too sparse for effective spawning, often leading to local extinction.

This has widespread implications for coastal livelihoods in villages that have relied on this commodity, and where few alternative sources of cash income are available.
Programs are now underway in Madagascar, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines to commercially produce sandfish.

Research to date has shown that the production of sandfish in a variety of ways (such as ranching, restocking and culturing) represents a viable and environmentally positive livelihood for coastal communities in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, there are still a number of significant issues to be addressed before this can become a reality.
Sea ranching, culturing and restocking
Two WorldFish projects (‘Sea Ranching and Restocking Sandfish in Asia Pacific’, and ‘Culture of Sandfish in Asia-Pacific’) funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research Center (ACIAR) are addressing the issue of sandfish depletion by:
-- Sea ranching: Testing a new livelihood option in the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia through the release of cultured sandfish in managed inshore habitats and allowing communities to harvest them at market size after three years.

-- Culturing: Further investigating and developing options for the pond-based mono- and co-culture (with shrimp and finfish) of sandfish in Vietnam and the Philippines.

-- Restocking: Replenishing selected sandfish populations through the restocking of marine reserves, designed to rebuild a critical mass of spawning adults.
Another key element of the projects looks at guiding local communities, municipal governments and national scientific agencies in the appropriate management and governance of sea cucumber fisheries in each region.
While the focus of these projects is sandfish production for the benefit of coastal communities, it is hoped that WorldFish work will also motivate communities to conserve wild breeding stocks while still generating income and increasing stock recovery.
Tailored production technologies
These projects will ensure that all stakeholders have a better understanding of the conditions necessary for the successful ranching, restocking and culturing of sandfish.  
Scientists will provide a ‘toolbox’ of production technologies and methods within the range of available capabilities and infrastructure in selected areas in the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia.

For example, a bio-economic model will be developed that will, in due course, reveal the feasibility of sea ranching and culturing, as well as the optimum schedule for harvesting.  
Simplification of both hatchery and nursery systems will also ensure that this technology will be broadly applicable across isolated coastal communities in developing countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.


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