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Research aimed at reviving dwindling sea cucumber stocks

Sea cucumbers live in coastal waters all across Asia and the Pacific. Because of their strong commercial value in Asian markets – where they’re sold in dried form as "beche-de-mer" – they have been harvested so heavily in some areas that remaining stocks could have trouble breeding. One possible restocking strategy that WorldFish scientists have been testing is the introduction of cultured juveniles in the wild. Qualified support for the approach comes from a study involving a species known as "sandfish" (Holothuria scabra); it concluded that 7 to 20% of sandfish released at a size of 3 to 10 grams in optimum habitat could be expected to survive to market size.

Another WorldFish project is giving fishery officials in New Caledonia information needed to help ensure sustainable sea cucumber populations. The incentive is high because of the commodity’s export value to the country, which totaled about US$5.3 million in 2007. In a two-year study, scientists surveyed populations of sea cucumbers (as well as giant clams and large sea snails known as trochus) at 50 lagoon and barrier reef sites of La Grande Terre, the country’s largest island. The abundance of 12 locally available species was found to vary from site to site, with a few species apparently depleted and several others sparse but not critically low. The researchers concluded that some stocks of sea cucumbers in New Caledonia waters could probably be fished at modest levels, but fishing restrictions and other measures were advised to protect species that have critically low populations.

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