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Few licenses issued this season

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 13, 2011) – Only eight harvesting licences have been issued so far in the 2011 sea cucumber harvesting season - an usually slow start this year, said Poasi Ngaluafe, the Head of the Research Division of the Ministry of Fisheries today, June 13.

The sea cucumber harvesting season started on April 1 and runs until October 31, he said, "but this year we are already more than two months into season, and only eight licences have been issued, three for Tongatapu, three for Vava'u and two for Ha'apai."He said there were also applicants from the Niuas but they had not been issued licenses at this stage because there were still requirements they must meet.

"At this point it is not certain how many licenses in total will be issued for the 2011 season but it is expected to be less than the 23 licenses issued in 2010," he said.

Poasi added the number of licenses applicants this year also dropped in comparison to applicants received last year. The Ministry of Fisheries received 27 applicants this year compared to 70 applicants in 2010.

It is understood that the main reason for the decline is because a much lesser quota of only 100 tonnes of sea cucumbers was allocated for commercial purposes, a decline from over 312 tonnes exported in 2010.

In 2010 there were six licenses for Tongatapu, six for Vava'u and 11 for Ha'apai.

In May the Ministry of Fisheries in a sea cucumber stock survey carried out in November 2010 to March 2011 concluded significant stock depletion, especially on high commercial value cucumber such as teatfish and black teatfish, found mainly in Tongatapu.

But low value species, such as lollyfish and snakefish, remained on an average level of healthy stock.

Export data from Tonga identified the shift from high value species to low value species, showing that targeted species such as snakefish becoming increasingly dominant in Tonga's export to Asian markets.

In response the Ministry of Fisheries issued a lesser quota of 100 tonnes of sea cucumber allocated for 2011 with the harvesting season running from April 1 to October 31 annually.

A 10 year ban on the harvesting of sea cucumber in Tonga's water was lifted in 2008 and the over fishing of the sea cucumber stock in Tonga's water has been an on going problem.

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