The Sciences

No Plan

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumJan 27, 2010 4:40 PM

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The latest edition of Ocean and Coastal Management has an article on the world's most charismaticinvertebrate and I am sad to report--as expected--the news is not good:

Socio-Economic Features Of Sea Cucumber Fisheries In Southern Coast Of Kenya Jacob Ochiewoa, Maricela de la Torre-Castrob, Charles Muthamaa, Fridah Munyia and J.M. Nthutaa

A socio-economic assessment was conducted at Vanga, Shimoni, Majoreni and Gazi villages in the Kenyan south coast with focus on the sea cucumber fishing patterns, the social and economic characteristics of the fisher communities, the contribution of sea cucumbers to the local livelihoods, and analysis of the management systems. The results indicate that sea cucumber fishers are mainly men. Fishing is done in sub-tidal areas (3-10 metres deep) and inter-tidal areas depending on the species being targeted. Those who fish in the sub-tidal areas do skin-diving without using SCUBA diving gear. Sea cucumber fishing is heavily done during the north east monsoon season when the sea is calm and water is clear. About 32% of the sea cucumber fishers also collect other marine products such as octopus. The sea cucumbers are sold fresh from the sea to local first level middlemen who process and sell them to the second level middlemen and exporters in Mombasa. The fishers occasionally borrow money from first level middlemen especially when they fail to catch sea cucumbers but this in turn creates conditions of dependence and possible exploitation. Almost all sea cucumber fishers have stated that they are not willing to make sea cucumbers part of their daily diet. The economic value of the product was substantial; the average monthly revenue for dry sea cucumbers in the area was estimated to US$ 8,000. The relative highest profits are derived from juvenile species, thus there is an economic incentive hindering local stocks to reach sexual maturity, which in turn may create a situation in which recruitment success is highly dependent on faraway populations. The present management system falls into general fisheries regulations and was found weak. No specific management plan for sea cucumbers was found.

In other words, cukes are being collected before they reach sexual maturity and, at present, it appears that fishers have no incentives to harvest local populations sustainably. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, our oceans are going to hell in a handbasket. The signs of dramatic decline across scales are crystal clear, but we have a habit of ignoring what happens below the surface. So when there’s nothing but jellyfish and algae left, our children may wonder why we knew, yet did nothing. Oh, for the love of sea cucumbers... Surely we can do better!

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