By Watisoni Lalavanua

In March 2017, the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) together with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) hosted the first ever National Bêche-de-mer Forum in Fiji.

A total of 65 participants from the industry including exporters, non-governmental organizations, academic partners, legal practitioners, community representatives and various government ministries attended the forum.

The purpose of the forum was to inform stakeholders about the sea cucumber fishery in Fiji, discuss findings on recent studies that were carried out on sea cucumbers in Fiji and their recommendations for management. The Forum also served as a platform to formally launch two national reports on the sea cucumber fishery in Fiji.

The Honourable Minister for Fisheries, Mr Semi Koroilavesau, officially opened the forum and launched the two reports. In his opening Speech, the Minister emphasised that in order for the sea cucumber population to remain productive and for it to contribute efficiently to Fiji’s ecosystems and economy, new management measures are needed to reverse dwindling populations to ensure long-term sustainability.

Dr. Steven Purcell from the National Marine Science Centre, Southern Cross University in Australia provided the plenary address. In his address Dr. Purcell highlighted that:

  • The sea cucumber stocks in Fiji are in peril and in order for the population to remain productive and to maintain healthy ecosystems, urgent management measures are needed to reverse declining populations.
  • The international market for sea cucumber is growing and the price for sea cucumber is increasing as stocks decline.
  • Fijians are no longer getting high prices for sea cucumber as many of the high value stocks have been depleted.
  • It is not just about preserving the biodiversity of this highly economically and ecologically valuable species, but it’s also about preserving livelihoods for Fijians and ensuring that the resource is available for future generations.
  • Potentially unpopular management measures must be introduced immediately to regulate fishing intensity within sustainable limits. This could help prevent a nation-wide ban and maintain this value source of income.
  • Sea cucumber fishery in Fiji does not need any further research, but it desperately needs action for management.

Eight speakers presented their research during the forum and shared relevant recommendations for management. All the proposed recommendations were then thoroughly discussed in working groups, to assess the potential timeline for implanting recommendation.

Constructive feedback was provided to the Ministry of Fisheries on how it could improve the current draft national sea cucumber management plan. As a result of discussions generated during the forum, the improvement and finalisation of the management plan has now become a national priority.