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Population status, fisheries and trade of sea cucumbers in the Western Central Pacific
Kinch, J.; Purcell, S.; Uthicke, S.; Friedman, K. (2008). Population status, fisheries and trade of sea cucumbers in the Western Central Pacific, in: Toral-Granda, V. et al. (Ed.) (2008). Sea Cucumbers, a global review of fisheries and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, 516: pp. 7-55
In: Toral-Granda, V.; Lovatelli, A.; Vasconcellos, M. (Ed.) (2008). Sea Cucumbers, a global review of fisheries and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, 516. FAO: Rome, Italy. ISBN 978-92-5-106079-7. 317 pp., more
In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. FAO/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome. ISSN 2070-7010, more
Peer reviewed article

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  • Kinch, J.
  • Purcell, S.
  • Uthicke, S.
  • Friedman, K.

    In the Western Central Pacific region, most sea cucumber fisheries have exhibited boom-and-bust cycles since the late nineteenth century. Since the 1980s, elevated export prices and demand from Asian markets have been the catalysts for increased fishing. At many localities, high-value species have been depleted and previously unfished species are now exploited. The sustainability of these fisheries is of widespread concern. Australia and Melanesian countries are the largest exporters of bêche-de-mer in the region. While annual exports from Melanesian countries have not declined markedly over the last two decades, those from Polynesia and Micronesia have. The declining exports appear to be attributed to unsustainable fishing pressure and naturally low abundances of many commercial species in remote Pacific islands and atolls. Currently, 35 sea cucumber species in the families Holothuriidae and Stichopodidae are thought to be harvested. Greater endemicity occurs in Melanesian countries with sea cucumber species richness generally declining eastward of Papua New Guinea (PNG). On average, 13 species are harvested per country. The vast majority of sea cucumbers are exported as dried bêche-de-mer; relatively small amounts are exported frozen or salted. A few species are eported as ornamentals and this component of trade is commonly under-reported. Many reports showed that some form part of subsistence diets, particularly for Polynesians. In some of these cases, just the gonads and/or intestine are taken and the animal is released to regenerate these organs for re-harvesting. Especially in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs), sea cucumbers are collected by hand in coral reefs and shallow lagoons. The exploitation often involves a high number of artisanal fishers, accessing stocks from shore or using small boats. Values of catch-per-unit-effort varied greatly among the published studies, and generally declined over time. Rural poverty in Papua New Guinea is causing some fishers to continue to collect sea cucumbers even when returns fall below 1 specimen per 10 hours of diving. The multispecies nature of these fisheries adds difficulty for management and trade reporting. Export data are sometimes inaccurate, amalgamated across species groups, or missing, which adds to the difficulty of monitoring catches. Comparisons of past and recent trade data show an alarming trend of increasing proportions of low-value species in exports and a greater range of species in exports. This is particularly evident in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where biodiversity is high. The authors compare data from past and recent field surveys, and present a case study of Holothuria whitmaei densities among fished and unfished locations. Populations of most higher-priced species in the Western Central Pacific are, apparently, grossly depleted compared to virgin densities. For some coastal villages, sea cucumber fishing is the primary source of income to residents. Financial benefits are generally distributed widely, at the village level, although processing by exporting companies is an increasing trend. In most fisheries, the depletion of sea cucumber stocks is already impacting the potential incomes of coastal and island communities and national revenues. In some cases, overfishing is affecting the sustainability of these fisheries for the long term. The development of sustainable management in the Western Central Pacific region has been difficult. Management tools like size limits, gear restrictions, spatial and temporal closures, quotas and marine reserves have not curbed overfishing. Much of their ineffectiveness can be attributed to a lack the necessary funds and technical capacity for adequate awarness raising in most PICTs. Commonly, there are also conflicts of interest within differing levels and agencies of government, politicians and influential business people. Fishing moratoria have been declared in some countries, including Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu. Although breeding populations at some localities have recovered, empirical studies show that populations for other species have failed to rebuild after years of respite. International support is needed to evaluate CITES listing for the conservation of rare and threatened species. Restocking using hatchery-produced juveniles is technically feasible, but will be an expensive remedy to overfishing. International translocation of stocks for restocking or sea ranching is discouraged. Recent research has focussed on underwater population surveys, to assess population densities, and socio-economic surveys. In particular, the SPC PROCFish/C programme has trained fisheries officers in these survey methods and is providing comparative analyses of stock status in PICTs. Effort must now turn to aiding PICTs to develop practical management frameworks that allow breeding populations to recover to productive levels with a limited institutional capacity for compliance and enforcement of regulations.

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