The harvesting of sea cucumber in the Joint Management area is exploratory fishing. (Seychelles Fishing Authority)
Exploratory harvesting of sea cucumber by Seychellois operators in the Joint Management Area (JMA) of the Mascarene Plateau Region is set to start within the coming months as sea conditions improve.
Jointly managed by Seychelles and Mauritius, as the two countries sharing jurisdiction, the Joint Management Area is an extended continental shelf area of about 396,000 square kilometres in the Mascarene Plateau Region.
Since 2011, Mauritius and Seychelles have exercised joint jurisdiction over the seabed and subsoil of the JMA for the purpose of exploring and exploiting living and non-living resources, including sea cucumbers.
In an interview with SNA, the Joint Management Area focal point for Seychelles, Chrissant Barbe, shared that at the moment, the harvesting of sea cucumber in the Joint Management area is exploratory fishing.
Exploratory fishing refers to the practice of fishing for the purpose of assessing the sustainability and feasibility of future commercial fisheries by contributing to scientific data relating to such fisheries.
“It will be a fishing project with an exploration aspect to it as we are unsure of the population. It will have both an economic and environmental preservation aspect. As Seychelles is more developed in the industry than Mauritius, Seychelles was ready to start the project before Mauritius, and Mauritius has agreed for Seychelles to go forth,” said Barbe.
The two contractors from the private sector of Seychelles, who will be leaving for the plateau soon, will operate under conditions agreed upon by both Indian Ocean countries.
Only licenced vessels will be authorised to harvest sea cucumbers in the designated area and the harvesting of other species is prohibited. A maximum of 5,000 sea cucumbers shall be harvested per trip in the trial phase of the project pending the establishment of a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) system.
All vessels must be equipped with a vessel monitoring system (VMS), which will be used to report their position at sea during the length of the trip, as well as electronic catch reporting systems to report catch and effort data daily.
Each fishing trip will last for a maximum of 18 days and a total of six trips can be operated each year per vessel.
The fishing season will be for an initial period of three months after which processes will be reviewed based on data collected.
“The exploratory fisheries will outline the species of sea cucumber present on the plateau. We have general information that there might be a lot of sea cucumber there but we do not know the details as to which species can be found there, the distribution, and the population,” said Barbe.
In Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, sea cucumbers are mostly exported, especially to Asian markets. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the annual export of dried sea cucumbers from 2019-2021 was a total of 41.52 tonnes at a market value of $4.7 million.