Industry, regulators and scientists got together at the Field Station on June 16th to talk about Sea Cucumber Aquaculture. Organized by Albert Wu, the Station hosted a delegation of Chinese Sea Cucumber Culture Experts who spoke to the attendees about Sea Cucumber Culture in China.
Sea cucumbers which are echinoderms, related to sea urchins and sea stars, typically crawl along the bottom eating detritus (an organic mop). Sea cucumbers are primarily harvested from Asian and subtropical waters and are typically dried to form a product known as Beche-de-Mer. The Chinese advocate the use of sea cucumber as a folk remedy, with use recorded as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 BC). The Chinese consider sea cucumber as a tonic rather than a seafood item and the popular Chinese name for sea cucumber is “haishen “, which means, roughly, “ginseng of the sea”. Dried whole sea cucumbers are extremely valuable in the Chinese market, ranging as much as hundreds of dollars per kilo based on grade.
Dried cucumbers for sale in Dalian China 2008, this box approximately $600 CDN . Note this was in the “sea cucumber” store at the mall. B. Kingzett photo
In the Asia-Pacific, sea cucumber capture fisheries accounts for 20,000 – 40,000 metric tonnes annually depending on conversion factor used while aquaculture in China accounts for approximately 10,000 MT dry weight . In comparison Canadian dive fisheries are small with annual quota of approximately 1400-1600 tonnes (whole weight) with annual landed value of $3.2 Million and wholesale value of $7.0M in 2005. This represents approximately 1.8% of world production. Only the Giant Red Sea (California) Cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) is harvested in British Columbia. Until 1986 harvesting was restricted to South Coast areas, now the North and Central coast supports approximately 80% of the current fishery, which occurs for approximately 3 weeks each year . Only five other countries, Japan, Indonesia, USA (Atlantic), Papua New Guinea and Korea have exceeded more then 1000 tonnes since 2000 in capture fisheries.
The Japanese sea cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus), is cultured throughout the coastal provinces of China. Hatchery techniques to produce sea cucumber seed have been in development in China since the early 1950’s. However, intense development of the sea cucumber aquaculture sector did not begin until the 90’s, when many of the ponds previously used as shrimp culturing facilities were converted to sea cucumber ponds.
Wild sea cucumbers harvested in British Columbia are split and dried, and are often sold for much less in value than the Chinese cultured sea cucumbers which are harvested at much smaller sizes and usually eaten whole.
In addition to hatchery produced seed, sea cucumbers also occur as naturally fouling organisms on many oyster farms and could potentially be an additional crop for BC shellfish farms.
Many questions still remain about culturing the BC native cucumber for export markets for example:
- Can growth rates and dietary needs be determined to grow sea cucumbers more intensely on small BC farms?
- Will BC farmed BC cucumbers achieve high value in local and export markets?
- Can farmed sea cumbers be grown directly under existing farms or will they wander off?
- What technologies can be used to grow sea cucumbers in pens, ponds or off bottom?
- Will wild cucumbers get confused with farmed cucumbers on the farms and create fishery management problems ?
- Can seed and adults be produced in such a way for a farming economic model to make sense?
- Are there sustainability issues relating to sea cucumber farming?
Developing any new species for culture has lots of biological, policy, economical and even social issues to be resolved. The filed station’s research facilities were built to help answer just these kinds of questions and we look forward to working with industry on these issues in the future.
Thanks to Albert Wu for organizing, our local and international guests for attending this seminar and especially to our own Simon Yuan for translating.