Trends in small-scale artisanal fishing of sea cucumbers in Oceania

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Purcell, SW, Ngaluafe, P, Aram, KT & Lalavanua, W 2016, 'Trends in small-scale artisanal fishing of sea cucumbers in Oceania', Fisheries Research, vol. 183, pp. 99-110.

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Multi-species sea cucumber fisheries in Oceania involve vast numbers of small-scale fishers exploiting stocks on coral reefs and tropical lagoons. Fishery development measures might need to be specific to locations or fisher groups, and regulations should be appropriate to fishing activities. To understand fishing among countries, locations, gender and age, we conducted questionnaire-based interviews of 479 sea cucumber fishers in Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia and Tonga. Fishers included youth and elderly, and the average age within countries was 36–42 years. Women commonly gleaned sea cucumbers from shallow habitats and dived for them in some countries. Although spatially variable, our results indicate intense fishing pressure based on high trip frequencies and fishing effort. Catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) differed significantly among countries and locations, and fishers on some islands caught high numbers of low-value species. Young fishers went fishing more often, but age did not affect fishing effort and CPUE. Fishers collected a wide range of sea cucumbers, and up to 27 species were harvested in Fiji. Species composition in catches differed significantly among countries and between genders; women usually harvest species typical of shallower reef habitats. Fishers tended to view stocks as declining or greatly over-exploited. Based on fisher knowledge, recent catch rates for an average fishing day have declined by 33–92% across the study countries compared to 10+ years in the past. Our study shows that fishing modes, catch rates and catch composition in small-scale fisheries can be highly context-dependent. Management measures and interventions to support fisher livelihoods must consider gender differences and location-specific fishing activities. Sharp declines in catch rates over time in all countries, fisher perceptions of resource trajectories, and a predominance of low-value species in present-day harvests, provide strong evidence of widespread over-exploitation.

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