Sea cucumber fishery to open June 15-August 15

Galapagos, May 11, 2011 (translated from the press release of the Participatory Management Board).

This afternoon and evening, at an extraordinary meeting of Participatory Management Board (PMB) of the Galapagos Marine Reserve on Santa Cruz, consensus was achieved in regards to the opening up of the sea cucumber fishery in the Marine Reserve.  The decision was based on population monitoring results performed by technicians of the National Parks Service and of the Charles Darwin Foundation, with the help of fishermen from the various fishing cooperatives in the archipelago. (CNH TOURS:  The sea cucumber fishery has been closed due to insufficient stocks, since 2008)

This monitoring showed that there is a population density of 12 sea cucumbers per 100 square meters, which is above the minimum density of 11 per 100 square meters permissible to consider the opening of this fishery, as stipulated in the Fisheries Management Plan for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, developed and approved in 2009.   

Based on this report and considering the needs of the artisanal fisheries sector of the archipelago, the PMB set a quota of 1 million individuals for the extraction of sea cucumber for this season, which starts June 15 for a period of 60 days .

The Bolivar channel, which separates Fernandina and Isabela islands will remain closed to the fishery, as has been the case previously.  This zone is considered as an important breeding ground for sea cucumbers.

PS: Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in many asian markets.

CNH Tours notes that it took many years of hard and frustrating work to reach this point in the management of the sea cucumber fishery in Galapagos.  From the early 1990s to the mid-2000s (CNH the sea cucumber gold rush drew in fishermen from the continent intent on vacuuming up as many of these ground dwelling starfish related animals as possible.  At up to $1 per individual, a fisherman could make a few thousand dollars within several weeks.    It was clear that the practice was unsustainable, and by the early 2000s, the effort required to harvest enough sea cucumbers was so great that the fishery nearly closed down for lack of economic interest.    It now seems that management has led to a small come-back.    Previously, annual catches were in the 5 million individual range.

The battle to manage this fishery was hard fought, and led to several disruptions to tourism operations, as fishermen, angry at efforts to impose quotas, would blockade roads and visitor site access points.    It seems that this period is now a part of Galapagos history - let's hope!

Visitors to the islands between June 15 and August 15 may note several small fishing boats near the shoreline around the archipelago.  These will likely be sea cucumber fishermen - the animal is usually harvested by hand, by scuba divers.

Picture:  Measure the size of a sea cucumber - minimum length, fresh, must be respected.  Courtesy of Galapagos Conservancy. sea cucumber