Across the Western Indian Ocean harvesting of sea cucumbers is predominantly carried out by artisanal fishers. Worldwide production of beche-de-mer that is processed from sea cucumbers is currently not sufficient to meet the demand of the Asian Market and pressure to continue fishing is still very high. This coupled with declining stocks and weak management systems indicate that sea cucumber stocks are unlikely to recover to sustainable levels in the near future. The need for improved management of the sea cucumber fisheries in the WIO led to the initiation of a three-year, multi-country regional research project funded by the Marine Science for Management program of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.
First, the project aimed to document and evaluate the knowledge available on sea cucumbers in the region. This was necessary to gain an understanding of the challenges of the fishery in order to guide the design of future research and management interventions. Second, the project sought to fill key gaps in information by conducting research studies on the ecology, biology and socioeconomics of sea cucumbers in fi ve countries in the region. The project involved a multi-disciplinary team from Kenya, Madagascar, Reunion (France), Seychelles and Tanzania. All these countries with the exception of Reunion have sea cucumber fisheries allowing for comparisons across different fishing intensities, socioeconomic conditions and capacity for management.
The main components of the project included, ecological assessments and species inventories; studies on the reproductive biology of the key commercial species; studies to assess the effectiveness of marine protected areas in the management of sea cucumbers; studies on the socioeconomics and management of the fishery; and training fisheries managers on the taxonomy, fisheries biology and management of sea cucumbers.
This volume summarizes key research findings and the main recommendations from the project. The volume is targetted at institutions that have a stake in maintaining the long-term productivity and sustainability of fisheries and natural resources including fisheries and conservation managers, local communities that depend on these resources and donors especially those who have an interest in community resource management and alternative livelihoods.
The main findings of the project were that the sea cucumber fisheries in most of the studied countries continued to decline due to overexploitation and persistent and systemic governance challenges. The key recommendations detailed in this report include improving management capacity and planning, addressing the ecological and socioeconomic knowledge gaps, exploring alternative livelihoods and diversification, and improving stakeholder engagement and regional coordination. For sea cucumber fisheries to improve and to continue to contribute to livelihoods, there is a need for coordinated national commitments to develop and implement management systems that improve the likelihood of achieving sustainablity of this fishery.