MSC sea cucumber fishery is a world first

MSC sea cucumber fishery is a world first MSC certification for the Western Australian Sea Cucumber fishery is a world first. Photo: MSC

The Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery is the world’s first to be certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery.

The highly prized sea cucumber has ‘ocean cleaning’ properties which make protecting it vital for maintaining good ocean health, and the strong management of the Western Australian Sea Cucumber fishery sets it apart from concerns elsewhere in the world around overfishing of sea cucumber.

“Congratulations to the Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery for leading the way with this world-first certification,” said Patrick Caleo, Asia Pacific Director of the Marine Stewardship Council.

“The vision and leadership shown in achieving this certification will inspire others to follow, representing a big win for the future of sea cucumber more broadly. The use of the MSC blue fish tick on sea cucumber products will be another big step in transforming the global sea cucumber market to a sustainable basis.”

The fishery operates off the Western Australia coastline and catches two species of sea cucumber, the deep-water redfish (Actinopyga echinites) and sand fish (Holothuria scabra). Products will be harvested, processed and marketed by Tasmanian Seafoods to Singapore, the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan Province.

“There’s a growing concern amongst consumers with sustainability and the environment. We wanted to prove that despite global concern with populations of sea cucumber, Australian sea cucumber fisheries are sustainable and well managed. Achieving MSC certification does this,” commented Tasmanian Seafoods CEO Mark Webster.
“Western Australia sea cucumber is hand-harvested in remote and pristine waters, so there are very few interactions with the ocean floor and none with threatened or endangered species. Due to hand harvesting, the fishery has no incidental bycatch. We believe these conditions lead to a world-leading quality product. We plan to work with stakeholders to achieve MSC certification for all of Australia’s sea cucumber fisheries. Once achieved, all Australian sea cucumber can be sold with the MSC blue fish tick label.”

In-depth independent assessment

The certified fishery was independently assessed to the 28 principles for sustainable fishing set out in the MSC Fisheries Standard by auditors, Lloyd’s Register.

“The Western Australia Sea Cucumber fishery has demonstrated healthy populations of both its species of sea cucumbers. The impact of the hand gathering fishing method on the surrounding environment and the management of the fishery all meet the required scoring levels to achieve MSC certification. We are pleased that this outcome represents a world first for MSC certified sea cucumbers and look forward to continuing to report the fishery’s progress at annual surveillance audits,” said Polly Burns, Interim Fisheries and Aquaculture Operations Manager at Lloyd’s Register.

Over 1400 species of sea cucumber are said to exist with at least seventy of these being commercially exploited in what is now a multi-billion-dollar trade. Nearly 80% of sea cucumber exports globally are destined for Hong Kong SAR where they are then re-exported into mainland China and sold, typically as a dried product known as bêche de mer.

In some parts of the world, the high demand and price of sea cucumber have led to increasing levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a thriving illegal market trade and diminishing sea cucumber populations due to overfishing. With China’s population continuing to grow, the country’s middle class is projected to double to 600 million by 2022.

“The upward financial mobility of China’s growing middle class will likely result in increasing demand for high-end delicacies like sea cucumber,” said sea cucumber expert and MSC UK and Ireland Commercial Outreach Manager Seth McCurry.

“Sustainable management of wild sea cucumber fisheries, such as that demonstrated by the Western Australian Sea Cucumber fishery, are critical to meet this demand.”

He added that sea cucumbers predominantly feed on organic marine waste and excrete vital nutrients for the marine environment.

“This nutrient recycling and sediment redistribution are critical to maintaining productive and biodiverse ecosystems, like coral reefs. It also increases alkalinity levels of seawater, serving as an important buffer against ocean acidification.”

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