Dried sea cucumbers are worth $30 to $100 per kilogram depending upon the species, quality, and market. Thus, foreign investors have been interested in harvesting sea cucumbers across Pacific Islands for a long time.
As a result of strong foreign interests, our monitoring program (picture on right, methods) has been documenting significant declines in sea cucumber abundances as seen for Chuuk (graph on left).
This has resulted in the depletion of sea cucumber stocks in many islands, with greatest impacts to large-bodied species of sea cucumbers seen in the top photos. As large-bodied sea cucumber became depleted, attention next turned towards the smaller species seen in the photos on the bottom.
Pohnpei dealt with illegal harvesting funded by foreign investors starting in 2015 that lasted a few years. This resulted in legal action and a full ban on harvesting in 2018. Stocks are recovering very slowly (approximately 5 years for recovery of small cucumbers, while up to 10 years needed for large cucumbers).
In order to harvest sustainably, a better monitoring and harvesting plan will be required that provides benefits to the fishers and the ecosystems that support island societies. Data help form the basis for sustainable fisheries such as these are critical because few alternative livelihood options exist.
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