The Government has decided to tap into the sea cucumber industry again but this time with control to maximize benefit and avoid overexploitation.
Villagers will soon be picking sea cucumbers off their shores for income in the next harvesting season as the Ministry of Fisheries puts pen to paper with a Fijian company for a joint-venture agreement allowing the company to buy, process and export sea cucumber from Vanuatu.
There are fears that sea cucumbers nowadays are hard to find on many coastal areas and continuous harvest will only lead to over-exploitation.
The signing agreement has stirred public concerns over over-fishing that could endanger the health of the coastal ecosystems which rural communities depend on.
However, the Director of the Department of Fisheries (DOF), William Naviti, has assured that the department is aware of past mistakes in the industry and will ensure there are control mechanisms to avoid over-fishing.
”We have allowed too many operators in the past and extraction of the resources has not been properly monitored,” he said.
”The nine operators at that time were free to buy sea cucumbers from anywhere since it was an open-market. We believe we have not achieve maximum benefit in the past.
”Lessons have been learn and this time around only few operators will be accepted to serve the market. Working with only one company makes it easy to monitor harvest.”
Director Naviti said the department will be setting the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) rate for sea cucumber buyers to comply with.
There are 23 different commercial species of sea cucumbers in Vanuatu.
Director Naviti said that establishing a TAC for each operating site will ensure that the operator operates in a sustainable manner and not deplete the sea cucumber species.
He said the DOF will be working closely with each provincial government councils and communities to set the harvest limits following field surveys.
Vanuatu has a Sea Cucumber Management Plan which aims to ensure the sustainability of sea cucumber fishery and increasing revenue. The management plan has been reviewed by the DOF recently and will guide future developments.
According to the Director General (DG) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB), Moses Amos, the community and owners of the operating sites including the provincial government will also receive economic benefit from the agreement.
The agreement was signed following a formal tender process. The Government of Vanuatu holds a 49% share while the Fijian company owns 51%.