No Plan

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 27, 2010 11:40 am

The latest edition of Ocean and Coastal Management has an article on the world’s most charismatic invertebrate and I am sad to report–as expected–the news is not good:

Socio-Economic Features Of Sea Cucumber Fisheries
In Southern Coast Of Kenya

Jacob Ochiewoa, Maricela de la Torre-Castrob, Charles Muthamaa, Fridah Munyia and J.M. Nthutaa

A socio-economic assessment was conducted at Vanga, Shimoni, Majoreni and Gazi villages in the Kenyan south coast with focus on the sea cucumber fishing patterns, the social and economic characteristics of the fisher communities, the contribution of sea cucumbers to the local livelihoods, and analysis of the management systems. The results indicate that sea cucumber fishers are mainly men. Fishing is done in sub-tidal areas (3-10 metres deep) and inter-tidal areas depending on the species being targeted. Those who fish in the sub-tidal areas do skin-diving without using SCUBA diving gear. Sea cucumber fishing is heavily done during the north east monsoon season when the sea is calm and water is clear. About 32% of the sea cucumber fishers also collect other marine products such as octopus. The sea cucumbers are sold fresh from the sea to local first level middlemen who process and sell them to the second level middlemen and exporters in Mombasa. The fishers occasionally borrow money from first level middlemen especially when they fail to catch sea cucumbers but this in turn creates conditions of dependence and possible exploitation. Almost all sea cucumber fishers have stated that they are not willing to make sea cucumbers part of their daily diet. The economic value of the product was substantial; the average monthly revenue for dry sea cucumbers in the area was estimated to US$ 8,000. The relative highest profits are derived from juvenile species, thus there is an economic incentive hindering local stocks to reach sexual maturity, which in turn may create a situation in which recruitment success is highly dependent on faraway populations. The present management system falls into general fisheries regulations and was found weak. No specific management plan for sea cucumbers was found.

In other words, cukes are being collected before they reach sexual maturity and, at present, it appears that fishers have no incentives to harvest local populations sustainably.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, our oceans are going to hell in a handbasket. The signs of dramatic decline across scales are crystal clear, but we have a habit of ignoring what happens below the surface. So when there’s nothing but jellyfish and algae left, our children may wonder why we knew, yet did nothing. Oh, for the love of sea cucumbers… Surely we can do better!

MORE ABOUT: Kenya, sea cucumbers

Comments (1)

  1. Katharine

    And all because a few people wanted to make a buck.

    Something is wrong with the human psyche if it produces people that will put themselves out of a home in the long term just to do well in the short term.

    I mean, even the ‘you’ll lose your profit eventually’ argument doesn’t work on these people. If they destroy their product’s environment, they won’t have any more product.

    They’re businessmen, though; all they know about is money.

    I’ll laugh when Darwin makes short work of those idiots. I have no pity for morons.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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