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The Philippines: a hotspot of sea cucumber fisheries in Asia
Choo, P.-S. (2008). The Philippines: a hotspot of sea cucumber fisheries in Asia, in: Toral-Granda, V. et al. (Ed.) Sea Cucumbers, a global review of fisheries and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, 516: pp. 119-140
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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  • Choo, P.-S.

    Commercial exploitation of sea cucumbers in the Philippines dates back to the late eighteenth century. Almost all the sea cucumbers harvested in the Philippines are processed into the dried form (trepang or bêche-de-mer) and exported predominantly to China Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Singapore, Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province of China and Japan. There are no restrictions on the export of any species of sea cucumbers in the Philippines, even though some species have reached endangered status, nor is there a size restriction on any sea cucumber species for export. The number of species harvested commercially has increased over the years. There were five commercial species in the 1900s, 24 in the 1980s and currently there are 33 species. Species utilized in the commercial trepang trade has evolved from traditionally high value, low volume species like teatfish and sandfish to the lower value high volume species. Presently the most valuable commercial species are Holothuria fuscogilva, H. scabra, H. whitmaei, Stichopus chloronotus, S. herrmanni, S. horrens and Actinopyga spp. Many anecdotal reports point to the overexploitation of sea cucumbers which have been confirmed in surveys carried out recently. Sea cucumber landings and exports statistics from FAO can be confusing and need to be verified. When comparing the FAO data on annual volume produced from capture fishery with the volume of exports, the former is found to be lower (when it should be higher), implying that either the landings or the export data have not been accurately recorded. Acquiring accurate statistics is hindered by two issues: catches from the Philippines are lumped together as Holothuroidea and not separated into individual species; and species are called by various local names. A species can have more than one local name or one local name is shared by two or more species. Fisheries management in the Philippines in general is regulated by the New Fisheries Code (Republic Act 8550). Currently there are no specific clauses directed at the management of sea cucumbers. The open access nature of the resource encourages overfishing, as leaving them behind means that someone else will collect them. Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing also poses problems. Poaching of fish and invertebrates by foreign fishers in Philippine waters has been documented. As sea cucumber resources become depleted, fishing by Filipino fishers in foreign waters, as well as in Philippine Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has also become a problem. Although there are more than 150 sites in the Philippines with MPAs, most of these sanctuaries need improved vigilance to enforce the no-fishing boundaries. The lack of enforcement on the use of destructive fishing techniques also caused the destruction of corals and reef inhabitants like sea cucumbers. Various NGOs have established programmes on community-based management and co-management of natural resources in the Philippines, but not all have encountered success. Currently, sea cucumbers are mainly harvested in one of three ways: commercial fishing targeting solely sea cucumbers; artisanal fishing for sea cucumbers as bycatch; and gleaning in intertidal reef flats during low tide. In many islands and coastal villages in the Philippines, income from sea cucumber fishery used to contribute a significant portion of a family’s total income especially where the holothurians were abundant in the intertidal zones. However, current commercial sea cucumber populations in many shallow coastal areas have been reported to be overfished and income derived from sea cucumber gleaning has become less important. Commercial fishers who harvest sea cucumbers from the deeper areas derive a better income compared to those who glean in shallow coastal areas where the resources are already depleted. Fishers in the commercial and artisanal sectors are recognized to belong to the formal work sector with their livelihood given considerable attention by the government. However, the plight of informal sector workers, like the sea cucumber gleaners, is often ignored and their livelihood given scant consideration. The Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD) and several individuals have recommended strategies for the conservation of sea cucumbers in the Philippines. A framework for a national sea cucumber management plan was outlined after the National Forum on Sea Cucumber Fisheries and Management held in June 2007.

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