Sea cucumber, processed into beche-de-mer (BDM), is one of the oldest commercial marine commodities in the Pacific Islands Region. Sea cucumber fisheries in the Pacific have historically followed boom and bust cycles. Papua New Guinea (PNG) was an important supplier of BDM to Asian markets until overfishing of sea cucumbers led to a moratorium being declared by the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) in 2009. The Tigak Islands in New Ireland Province were the site of a targeted fishery for the high-value sea cucumber sandfish (Holothuria scabra) for a short period in the late 1980s before it was overfished. The history of sandfish exploitation in the Tigak Islands has been comparatively well documented, and it is described here using published articles, fisheries and export data, and contemporary interviews. Sea cucumber fisheries are very difficult to manage effectively to maintain sustainable yields. The PNG NFA is revising their National Beche-de-mer Management Plan to be implemented when the sea cucumber fishery reopens. Sandfish is regarded as a promising aquaculture candidate that may provide livelihood options for remote coastal communities in New Ireland Province and elsewhere in PNG. The next phase of the Tigak Islands’ sandfish fishery has exciting potential for mariculture to be integrated into fisheries management strategies but its success relies on fishers adopting more sustainable harvesting practices, and BDM buyers promoting better quality processing.
Regional Studies in Marine Science / Vol. 5, pp.69-79