American Samoa Sea Cucumber Moratorium Extended 6-Months

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Temporary measure allows time for permanent ban to be considered

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 14, 2014) – A Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) report recommends a permanent moratorium on commercial harvesting of sea cucumbers in American Samoa and further assessment into developing regulations to allow a sustainable subsistence sea cucumber fishery in American Samoa. Meanwhile the temporary moratorium on taking and removing sea cucumbers has been extended for another 6 months following the signing of an Executive Order (EO) on June 4.

The Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) requested an extension of the EO in order to set forth appropriate regulations under the American Samoa Administrative Code to place restrictions on the commercial harvesting of sea cucumbers.

The original Executive Order executed in December, called for DMWR to conduct surveys to investigate the population size and density of sea cucumber species that inhabit American Samoa and its Exclusive Economic Zone following intensive commercial fishing activities in the area.

The Sea Cucumber Fishery Health Assessment report produced by DMWR in May 2014, reports how the population densities for commercially harvested sea cucumber species in Tutuila, American Samoa are below the recommended Harvest Stock Reference Density for Pacific Island Countries, some of which face a high risk of global extinction.

The report recommends that regulation of sea cucumbers in American Samoa is necessary for the sustainability of these fisheries so that the Territory can continue benefiting from the positive impact of sea cucumbers to our coral reef ecosystems.

SUBSISTENCE VS COMMERIAL

There is a small-scale subsistence sea cucumber fishery in American Samoa which has traditionally existed for local consumption, and the species commonly harvested for subsistence use to produce the Samoan delicacy ‘Sea’ is the Stichopus horrens species, the ‘Mama’o’ (Actinopyga mauritiana) and the ‘Loli’ (Holothuria atra).

The more recently established large-scale commercial sea cucumber fishery involved organized groups of fishers making their way around the different village reefs and uninhabited areas throughout the Manu’a islands and the main island of Tutuila.

This larger commercial fishery mainly benefits the key organizers and the export businessmen, and to a lesser extent the small group of fishers. These fishers are typically not from the villages where the sea cucumbers are harvested; therefore the village communities themselves don’t usually receive any monetary benefits.

Unfortunately the commercial fishing of sea cucumbers continued despite the implementation of the 6-month moratorium, with a few incidences that were apprehended by the DMWR enforcement team, and many more that were reported following the event.

The surveys conducted by DMWR show that most of the sites have low population densities. The population densities for the commercially harvested sea cucumber species in American Samoa are below the recommended Harvest Stock Reference Density for Pacific Island countries and some sites have been completely over-fished.

These sites are at risk of experiencing sea cucumber population crashes and potential local extinctions of the most harvested species. Evidence from other countries in the Pacific indicates that recovery from intense over-fishing is slow, and can take 10-20 years for stocks to fully recover.

In addition some of the commercially harvested species that are found in American Samoa are also on the International Red List of Threatened Species, these include the Mama’o (Actinopyga mauritiana), the Pa ulu (Holothuria whitmaei), and the Susu valu pe’ape’a (Holothuria fuscogilva).

As well as a permanent moratorium, restoration of depleted stocks is also recommended to safeguard the future health of the coral reef ecosystems in the Territory.

BACKGROUND

The sea cucumber fisheries across the Western Central Pacific have been under high fishing pressure for decades and the general decline in availability of sea cucumbers is negatively impacting the potential incomes of coastal communities and in some cases is affecting the sustainability of fisheries for the long term. Sustaining these resources through effective management is of paramount importance to biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live and the livelihoods of people who depend on them.

Sea cucumbers play a very important role in regulating the health of our coral reef ecosystem. Sea cucumbers move slowly across sandy areas of the reef feeding on dead plant and animal material in the sand. The sand is taken in, the dead material digested and the clean sand is passed out behind. For this reason, sea cucumbers are important in cleaning and turning over sand on the sea floor, helping to recycle nutrients and assist with breaking down waste matter on the reef.

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