Alaskan sea cucumber farming could help bolster native stocks

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An Alaskan hatchery has successfully bred local sea cucumbers, Parastichopus californicus in captivity.

The first series of successful spawns occurred at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, Seward in June after staff had perfected the required balance of diet and temperature to first maintain the captive echinoderms and then condition them to trigger spawning.

The breeding research is being funded by the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association which represents a group of 150 to 180 commercial divers who catch the species from the sea bed.

In recent years the trade in Alaskan sea cucumbers to China has boomed and is estimated to be worth around $4.5m dollars yearly with hope of further expansion.

However divers had unsurprisingly noticed that as catches increased, some localised populations were failing to recover as rapidly as before, so the captive breeding programme was conceived in the hope that wild stocks can be supplemented in the future to help protect and further expand the fishery in a sustainable way.

The larvae have now been successfully reared and the next stage is monitoring the effects of differing diets and stocking densities on the continued growth of the estimated 100,000 juveniles.

As yet there are no plans for their release as the permit for experimentation requires they are destroyed.

Sea cucumbers are a popular food, both fresh or dried, in many Asian countries. They are also used within Chinese medicine.

The Chinese already aqua-culture sea cucumbers in huge artificial ponds, but the wild caught Alaskan specimens are prized for their superior quality, size and nutritional value.

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