Sea cucumber fishery proving sustainable

The Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery is the world’s first to be certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery.

“Congratulations to the Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery for leading the way with this world-first certification. The vision and leadership shown in achieving this certification will inspire others to follow, representing a big win for the future of sea cucumber more broadly. The use of the MSC blue fish tick on sea cucumber products will be another big step in transforming the global sea cucumber market to a sustainable basis.” said Patrick Caleo, Asia Pacific director of the Marine Stewardship Council.

The fishery operates off the Western Australia coastline and catches two species of sea cucumber, the deep-water redfish (Actinopyga echinites) and sand fish (Holothuria scabra). Products will be harvested, processed and marketed by Tasmanian Seafoods to Singapore, the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan Province.

“There’s a growing concern amongst consumers with sustainability and the environment. We wanted to prove that despite global concern with populations of sea cucumber, Australian sea cucumber fisheries are sustainable and well managed. Achieving MSC certification does this,” said, Mark Webster, CEO for Tasmanian Seafoods.

“Western Australia sea cucumber is hand-harvested in remote and pristine waters, so there are very few interactions with the ocean floor and none with threatened or endangered species. Due to hand harvesting, the fishery has no incidental bycatch. We believe these conditions lead to a world-leading quality product.

“We plan to work with stakeholders to achieve MSC certification for all of Australia’s sea cucumber fisheries. Once achieved, all Australian sea cucumber can be sold with the MSC blue fish tick label.”

The certified fishery was independently assessed to the 28 principles for sustainable fishing set out in the MSC Fisheries Standard by auditors, Lloyd’s Register.

“The Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery has demonstrated healthy populations of both its species of sea cucumbers. The impact of the hand gathering fishing method on the surrounding environment and the management of the fishery all meet the required scoring levels to achieve MSC certification. We are pleased that this outcome represents a world first for MSC certified sea cucumbers and look forward to continuing to report the fishery’s progress at annual surveillance audits.” said Polly Burns, interim fisheries and aquaculture operations manager at Lloyd’s Register.

A growing need for a sustainable sea cucumber market

Over 1,400 species of sea cucumber are said to exist with at least seventy of these being commercially exploited in what is now a multi-billion-dollar trade. Nearly 80 per cent of sea cucumber exports globally are destined for Hong Kong SAR where they are then re-exported into mainland China and sold, typically as a dried product known as bêche de mer.

In some parts of the world, the high demand and price of sea cucumber have led to increasing levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a thriving illegal market trade and diminishing sea cucumber populations due to overfishing. In August 2019, two species of sea cucumber were added to the CITIES Appendix II list  affording greater protection.

With China’s population continuing to grow, the country’s middle class is projected to double, from 300 million in 2018 to 600 million by 2022.

“The upward financial mobility of China’s growing middle class will likely result in increasing demand for high-end delicacies like sea cucumber. Sustainable management of wild sea cucumber fisheries, such as that demonstrated by the Western Australian Sea Cucumber fishery, are critical to meet this demand,” said Seth McCurry, MSC UK and Ireland commercial outreach manager and sea cucumber expert.