Managing sea cucumber fisheries with an ecosystem approach

Document Type


Publication details

Purcell, SW 2010, Managing sea cucumber fisheries with an ecosystem approach, A Lovatelli, M Vasconcello & Y Ye (eds), FAO fisheries and aquaculture technical paper no. 205, FAO, Rome. ISBN: 9789251064894

Report available on Open Access


Sea cucumbers are important resources for coastal livelihoods and ecosystems. At least 60 species are fished from more than 40 countries and most of the harvests are processed then exported to Asian markets. Sea cucumbers generally appear to have slow rates of population turnover and are easily harvested in shallow waters in the tropics. With retail prices of up to USD300–500 per kg (dried), exploitation has often been indiscriminant and excessive. Overfishing in recent years has led to local extinction of high-value species in some localities and prompted closures of many national fisheries to allow stocks to recover and to allow more sustainable management plans to be established. Apart from a few developed countries, only a small number of sea cucumber fisheries are currently being managed sustainably. Sea cucumber fisheries differ greatly in the scale of the fishing activities, status of stocks and the capacity of the management agency. Consequently, some management measures will be appropriate in some fishery scenarios but not others. This document presents a logical framework to assist fishery managers in choosing an appropriate suite of regulatory measures and management actions and elaborates on the uses, limitations and ways to implement them. This document contains five main sections. The first provides an overview of the biology and ecology of sea cucumbers, the international market for beche-demer market, types of sea cucumber fisheries and their global status (i.e. population abundance). The second section summarizes fisheries management principles and approaches, with an emphasis on the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF). The third section provides the “roadmap”, by way of instructions, flow diagrams and tables, to lead fishery managers along the path of choosing management measures appropriate to their fishery. The fourth and fifth sections discuss the application of each regulatory measure and management action – with Examples and lessons learned boxes to illustrate management problems and potential solutions from various fisheries. Improved management of sea cucumber fisheries is an imperative. It will be best achieved by applying an EAF, in which multiple regulatory measures and management actions are applied in full consideration of the sea cucumber stocks, the ecosystems in which they live and the socio-economic systems that drive exploitation. The commitment of governments, fishery managers and scientists to develop, apply and strictly enforce EAF will be crucial to sustaining sea cucumber populations for current and future generations.