A few weeks ago I posted on the huge increase of sea cucumbers being harvested in the Florida Keys: http://marinelabresearch.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/anyone-up-for-a-sea-cucumber-sandwich/
While sea cucumbers have been harvested in Florida for the aquarium trade for many years, only recently has the commercial industry begun to fish for sea cucumbers to export to Asia where they are eaten as a delicacy. In 2012, 14,000 sea cucumbers were harvested in the Florida Keys; in 2013, the number jumped to 54,000.
These numbers immediately set off red flags because sea cucumbers are especially susceptible to overfishing. They are sedentary invertebrates that live in shallow water habitats, such as seagrass beds and nearshore reefs, which makes them easy to locate and collect. Sea cucumbers do not mature until they are at least 2 years old and they are broadcast spawners, meaning they release their sperm and eggs into the water column. This spawning behavior requires dense population in order to be successful.
As sea cucumbers have been depleted in other areas of the world, it was important for Florida managers to act quickly. And they did! At FWC’s April meeting in Tallahassee, a commercial daily trip and vessel limit of 200 sea cucumbers was approved. This proactive change to the commercial fishing regulations will ensure Florida’s populations of these ecologically important species and the fisheries they support remain sustainable.
Why do we care about sea cucumbers???
Money talks! Florida’s commercial sea cucumber fishery has historically been a low-value fishery, averaging $14,000 per year for marine life endorsement holders prior to 2012. However, the value of landings during 2013 exceeded $43,000, more than three times the previous average.
- Nutritional studies have reported high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3 as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc
- Sea cucumbers contain essential amino acids that help regulate immune function
- Sea cucumbers have omega-3 and other essential fatty acids, which are thought to reduce heart disease, certain cancers, asthma, depression, ADHD and rheumatoid arthritis
- Several studies have also isolated compounds from sea cucumbers that may be useful for drug development – many of these compounds have been found to potentially slow the progression of or treat cancer, reduce blood clotting, treat osteoarthritis, reduce fatigue and speed wound healing
In addition to their economic value, sea cucumbers play an important role in marine ecosystems:
- Nutrient cycling in otherwise nutrient poor tropical reefs
- Recycle nutrients from sediment to seagrass
- Oxygenate sediments for other bottom-dwelling organisms by burying themselves
The new limit will begin June of 2014. The hope is that the sea cucumbers will be able to be fished sustainably so that we continue to receive both the economic and ecological benefits.