Sea cucumber fishers in Seychelles are being asked to submit their proposals to be part of the exploratory harvesting of the species under the joint management area (JMA) managed by Seychelles and Mauritius, said a top official.
The JMA is the mechanism of joint jurisdiction between Seychelles and Mauritius over an area of the seabed and its underlying subsoil in the Mascarene Plateau region. It excludes the water and living organisms above the shelf.
Chrissant Barbe, the Seychelles JMA Focal Point at the Department of Blue Economy, said that “at the moment, in the JMA, we do not know how many sea cucumbers there are in this area, where they are exactly and if there are any sea cucumbers in this area.”
He added that this opportunity will, therefore, give harvesters the chance to go out and find out if they are present and will also benefit from its harvest.
“This is an exploratory harvest, meaning that it will be at the risk of the fishers, who will have to go out and search for the sea cucumbers themselves, where they may come back empty handed or with a fortune,” he explained.
The request for proposal is already open and those interested have until February 21 to submit their documents to Barbe at the department’s headquarters at Maison Collet in the capital, Victoria.
Documents submitted must include identification documents, such as ID cards, business or company documents, a fishing licence and permit, and the proposal and methodology for sea cucumber fisheries activities.
The treaty for the joint management area was signed in 2012 and the two island nations secured rights to manage the seabed covering over 400,000 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean.
The process involved the preparation of a joint continental shelf submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under an internationally agreed process established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“It is an area where little exploration has been done so far and so, we have decided that both countries will be involved in this programme, with the hopes that we will learn more about the resources the area contains,” Barbe added.
The harvesting of sea cucumbers began in the early 1980s and the fishery experienced rapid development. By 1999 there were already signs of stock depletion, including lower volumes of high value species and fishermen having to travel further and dive deeper to maintain catch rates, and concerns were raised regarding the sustainability of the fishery.
The Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) implemented some management measures in 1999 in response to the local depletion of some species.
Currently, there are 25 licenses to harvest and 4 licenses to process sea cucumbers.
A recently completed survey showed that some sea cucumber species appear to be resilient to heavy fishing pressure while others show clear signs of over-exploitation.
As a result, the SFA has imposed a ban on one species and quotas on others for the current season which will end in June.