Management of sea cucumber stocks: patterns of vulnerability and recovery of sea cucumber stocks impacted by fishing


Kim Friedman, Marine Science Program, Department Environment and Conservation, 17 Dick Perry Avenue, Kensington, WA 6151, Australia
Tel.: +61(0)8 9219 9805
Fax: +61 8 93340326


Identifying rates of change in the abundance of sea cucumbers under differing management regimes is fundamental to estimating commercial yields, identifying ecological interactions and facilitating management. Here, we review the status of sea cucumber stocks from a range of Pacific Island countries (Samoa, Tonga, Palau, Fiji and Papua New Guinea), some of which have had a moratorium on exports for up to a decade. We use a time-series approach to look at variation in sea cucumber presence, coverage and density from survey and re-survey data. Results give an appreciation of variation between ‘high’ status (less impacted) and depleted stocks. Survey data show marked declines in coverage and abundance as a result of artisanal fishing activity, and although species groups were not lost at a country level, local extirpation and range restriction was noted. Resilience and ‘recovery’ following cessation of fishing varied greatly, both among locations and among the species targeted. Worryingly, even after extended periods of moratorium, the density of some species was markedly low. In many cases, the densities were too low for commercial fishing, and may be at a level where the effective population size is constrained due to ‘Allee’ affects. From these results, we suggest that management regimes presently employed are generally not well aligned with the level of response to fishing mortality that can be expected from sea cucumber stocks. New adaptive, precautionary approaches to management are suggested, which would allow more timely interventions to be made, while refined information on stock dynamics is sought.