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Research Development, Science

CDU EXPERT: CDU expert explains why sea cucumbers are chased by Illegal fishers in Northern Australia.

Charles Darwin University 2 mins read

24 January 2024

The illegal fishing of sea cucumbers on the Rowley Shoals in northern West Australia is causing concern from marine experts around the long-term consequences on the sea cucumber population and environmental impacts. According to CDU sea cucumber expert Dr Veronica Toral-Granda illegal sea cucumber fishery happens due to the high dollar value of sea cucumbers in the Asian market.

Dr Veronica Toral-Granda, sea cucumber Expert from Charles Darwin University

Contact details: +61 8 8946 6529 or email us at to arrange an interview.

The following quotes can be attributed to Charles Darwin University’s Dr Veronica Toral-Granda:

“Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in Asian cultures where they also have been given aphrodisiac and medicinal properties. They have been targeted and harvested for hundreds of years.”

“Sea cucumbers have a high dollar value in the Asian market, although currently many of the current fisheries target lesser quality sea cucumbers, they still fetch good value which probably represent the only livelihood for artisanal fishers in developing nations.”

“Sea cucumbers are very easy to collect from the sea floor and most of the commercial valuable species are in shallow waters. They are easy to process with no need for refrigeration or skills, hence are easy to harvest, process and accumulate on their boats or houses until the middlemen arrive and buy the bulk,”

“Illegal sea cucumber fishery happens for lack of alternatives for artisanal fishers probably due to other marine resources having been depleted already.”

“Australia and some neighbouring nations (Indonesia, PNG) have drafted international agreements to avoid IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fisheries, however lack of enforcement, respect for the law and the need of a livelihood for unskilled fishers represent a very hard thing to tackle.”

“Tropical sea cucumber fisheries often start targeting a single species, generally the most valuable then moving to other, less valuable, species once the former have been diminished, leading to a general diminishing of sea cucumber diversity in the marine environment.”

“When high value species are collected, the fisher also get better value and a better income/livelihood with less risk to their health and wellbeing.”

“As the high value species decline, fishers will have to fish for longer periods (health issues), further away (more expenses, less income, affecting community/family relationships) and collect more individuals to try to make same amount of money.”

“If illegal fishing continues, more sea cucumber species will be harvested and generally those fisheries do not have basic biological/ecological/population information on which to base management regimes that will promote their sustainability, hence the number of species in the wild will keep diminishing whilst the number of commercial species will continue to grow.”

“Sea cucumber overfishing has serious impacts on sediment health, water quality, nutrient recycling, seawater chemistry and energy transfers across the food chains in marine ecosystems.”

Contact details:

Emily Bostock
Acting Research Communications Officer
T: +61 8 8946 6529
M: 0432 417 518

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