Problems on Sea Cucumber Conservation

Jun Akamine



The global market for dried sea cucumber expanded in the late 1980s and this has created serious problems worldwide. One notorious example comes from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, which is known as “sea cucumber war.” Fishermen not only over-fish the endemic Isostichopus fuscus but also process the animal on the islands, which allows foreign species to scatter among the islands, negatively impacting the islands’ ecology. Thus, the Ecuador Government proposed that sea cucumber be listed in the CITES in 2003, which triggered international debates on how to conserve sea cucumber involving all kinds of stakeholders: fishermen, traders, researchers, conservationists, NGOs and fisheries agencies. This paper gives some thought to a matter how sedentary venthos species should be managed by communal efforts. I first explore the contemporary international debates on how to conserve sea cucumber with relation to conservation of sea cucumber foodways in Asia. Without understanding foodways in China and history of its development, it is difficult to design management plans. For example, among the 30 to 40 commercially traded sea cucumbers, northern China traditionally prefers only a few spiky sea cucumbers (tsu-shen) that are mainly harvested in temperate waters, including Galapagos species. Among the temperate spiky species, the Japanese common species, Stichopus japonicus is highly appreciated. The dried products from northern Japan are priced the most expensive in the world market because of the sharpest spikes. The price of S. japonicus in Hokkaido has been rising since 2000, which also creates several problems. To understand the problems and to find out the way to solve them, the second part of the paper will introduce a case study based on my fieldwork in Rishiri Island, Hokkaido, northernmost of Japan. Fishermen there have developed their qualitative brand through trial and error. Competing with strong market pressure and poaching, fishermen in Rishiri Island have developed communal rules that have been the results of exchange of ideas and practices with outside societies including traders. The case study will point out 1) the possibility that international intervention such as CITES may diminish these spontaneously developed self-regulated conservation efforts and 2) communal resource management may need support from the traders and management should not exclude traders. The latter is, especially, a new viewpoint for sustainable use of marine resources.


pdf iconFor full paper download, click here.



Akamine Jun is Associate Professor at School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nagoya City University and has been engaging in research on "sea cucumber foodways" more than a decade. His interest covers i) its historical development and trade dynamism in Asia, ii) its expansion to global market and production, iii) resource conservation balancing "communal" practices and global environmentalism. He started his research in the Philippines and Indonesia, and now he travels globally attending in CITES related conferences and meetings.