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Two-week grace due to ‘bad weather’

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Oct. 12, 2011) - Tonga's sea cucumber harvesting season was extended for two weeks from September 30, the Ministry of Fisheries confirmed today, October 15.

Tevita 'Ahoafi of the Licensing Unit at the Ministry of Fisheries said that although the harvesting season was extended, the number of licence holders remains at 11 for the 2011 season. Of these, three were for Tongatapu, three for Vava'u, four for Ha'apai and one for Niuatoputapu.

Tonga's sea cucumber harvesting season normally runs from April 1 to September 30, but it did not start this year until June, and that was one of the reasons for the two weeks extension, according to the Ministry of Fisheries.

Tevita said that local operators particularly in Vava'u and Ha'apai, had pleaded for more time to harvest, because bad weather had prevented most of them from getting out to sea over the past month.

The Minister of Fisheries Lord Vaea after meeting with the Ministry CEO Dr. Vailala Matoto and a committee including other senior officials, the extension was agreed to.

In the meantime the quota for export was initially allocated at 100 tonnes.

The number of licenses this year was a dramatic drop from the 22 licenses issued to operators in 2010 that resulted in a total of 312 tonnes exported to the Asian markets, he added.

The CEO of the Fisheries Dr. Vailala Matoto said he anticipated that the quota might exceed the initial 100 tonnes set but they would confirm that at the end of the export.

Meanwhile the Fisheries had also conducted a sea cucumber stock survey carried out in November 2010 to March 2011 that revealed that a significant stock depletion, mainly on high commercial value cucumber such as teatfish and blackfish found in Tongatapu.

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.

[PIR editor’s note: Tonga’s police and customs officers are aware that Illegal fishing and export of sea cucumber hinders the economic development of Tonga because it places the sustainability of sea cucumber stocks at risk. Data from overseas market indicated trading of sea cucumbers from Tonga during the moratorium period (1997-2007). Between 2008 -2010, the Fisheries Division received $65,300 from selling confiscated sea cucumber from known illegal fishing.]

The Ministry took measures to reduce the number of licenses and quota due to the species being overfished over the last two years.

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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