Stocks of sea cucumbers, found on the ocean bed worldwide and a staple in diets across Asia, are increasingly in trouble from overfishing, according to a new United Nations report released today.
Sea cucumbers, known as bêche-de-mer in French, have long been a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine and are fast gaining recognition among European chefs, helping countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines export large quantities to China and other markets.
Asia and the Pacific are the top sea cucumber producing regions, generating some 20,000 to 40,000 tons per year. However, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and Newfoundland in Canada are also hotspots for the undersea animal.
“The fast pace of development of sea cucumber fisheries to supply growing international demand is placing most fisheries and many sea cucumber species at risk,” said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study.
The Sea Cucumbers: a global review of fisheries and trade report warned that sea cumber stocks are under intense fishing pressure throughout the world, depleting most high value commercial species.
The FAO report underscored the need for the development of sea cumber management plans specific to local circumstances, including measures which establish catch quotas and minimum size limits, ban fishing during breeding seasons, and improve the monitoring of stocks.
Limiting overfishing is difficult, however, as effective management plans for sea cucumber fisheries are uncommon, noted the report, despite the substantial contribution they make to the export economies of many coastal regions.
The FAO report also identified other threats to sea cucumber populations, such as global warming, habitat destruction and illegal fishing.