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12 23Fri08012014

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‘Balati’ threatened by Asian trade

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THE confiscation of over 11,000 pieces of sea cucumbers in Mangilao on Wednesday highlighted the need to implement conservation measures for this marine resource, according to a local expert. Locally known as “balati,” sea cucumbers are gourmet delicacies being served in restaurants in Asian countries. The recent years have seen the overharvest of sea cucumbers in the Pacific waters.

The creature is rarely seen in Chuuk, where it was once in abundance.  On Guam, the sea cucumber can be found in our waters all over the island. Hongkong and Korea are the biggest markets for the edible invertebrate sea animals, which are sold at $100 per pound.

Alexander Kerr, associate professor from the University of Guam Marine Lab, said throughout Chuuk and on Mortlock, the creatures are hard to find because buyers come in and pick them out of the sea. “Sea cucumbers are easy to harvest because you can throw them in the bag. It’s in the best interest of the buyer to get as much as they can,” Kerr said. “Now they’re trying to get into Kosrae, but there is a moratorium.  The same thing goes with Yap.”

He said these island states profit from sea cucumber harvest. “They need the money, but they realize they don’t want to over harvest the product.  The islands are trying to get it right,” Kerr said.

He mentioned one mayor or chief who was offered $500 to harvest sea cucumbers.  “They’re getting ripped off.  The buyers are trying to get it at the lowest price.” Another reason to conserve sea cucumbers is their role in the ecosystem. Kerr has found that the sea cucumbers process a lot of sand and organic matter or filter the sand of bacteria.  They can be found in high densities where there are sewer outflows.

“It may be the cucumbers are helping in that way,” he said.

Kerr is developing pertinent research that will be submitted to the Department of Agriculture, which in turn will put together a mitigation plan that sets restrictions on sea cucumber harvesting. “They may either modify catch limits or impose a moratorium,” Kerr said. Some samples from the 11,092 sea cucumbers seized in a Mangilao house have been turned over to the University of Guam Marine Lab for further study. The rest have been stored away for evidence.

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