As the World Fisheries Day falls on November 21, a new report from Traffic says that the illegal trade of Sea Cucumbers, which are are crucial to the marine ecosystem, has thrived in the last 12 years with at least 101.40 tonnes and 6,976 sea cucumber individuals in illicit trade.
The study “In deep water; India’s Sea Cucumbers in Illegal Wildlife Trade”,highlight the critical importance of healthy ocean ecosystems and the need to ensure sustainable fisheries stocks.
The study covers 12 years (2010-2021) of seizure information from the Union Territory of Andaman and the Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, and the coastal state of Tamil Nadu.
The report said that the maximum seizures (139) were reported from Tamil Nadu, followed by 15 seizures in Lakshadweep, four in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, two in Karnataka, and one each in Manipur and Kerala, while one seizure occurred mid-sea.
In the report, the authors found that the demand for sea cucumbers in East Asian and Southeast Asian markets, along with the ease of harvest and low processing costs (drying), are proving detrimental to the species and their survival in India. According to the seizure reports, Sri Lanka, China, and Southeast Asia were the top three destinations for sea cucumbers trafficked from India.
WWF- India Secretary General & CEO Ravi Singh pointed out the need to strengthen the protection and conservation of sea cucumbers in the country. “Adequate measures to curb trafficking and illegal trade of the species through timely enforcement action is necessary. It is also equally important to raise awareness about the legal and conservation status of sea cucumbers among the fisheries through targeted campaigns in local languages,” Singh said.
“Despite the strict legal provisions, the Holothurian populations in India have been subjected to illegal harvest. TRAFFIC and WWF-India’s study indicates an ongoing trend in illicit sea cucumber trade from India to neighbouring countries. With limited information about its population status, the trade could have a detrimental impact on the species’ future,” noted TRAFFIC’s India Office coordinator and author of the report Dr Merwyn Fernandes.
Sea cucumber needs robust conservation and protection measures. Some of these include
• Undertaking research for monitoring and developing molecular tools for species-level identification and
population structure to aid the understanding of provenance.
• Using wildlife sniffer dogs at critical sites to detect protected marine species.
• Developing courses and modules for law enforcement officials on species identification, detection, and implementation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972.
• Enhancing cooperation within law enforcement agencies for implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations by import countries for CITES-listed sea cucumber species
• Creating awareness programmes for fishers and the fish trading community.
Sea cucumbers are crucial to the marine ecosystem as they consume decomposing organic matter and convert it into recyclable nutrients for other marine life. In addition, feeding and excretion by sea cucumbers increase seawater’s alkalinity, buffering the ocean’s acidification.
In India, approximately 200 sea cucumber species are found, all of which are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 against collection, trade or any form of utilisation. Two species of sea cucumber found in Indian waters – Holothuria fuscogilva and H. nobilis are also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 2020, which regulates their international trade.