The sea cucumber business is booming, especially in Asia. But the increasing demand can cause “a real catastrophe” in the seas.
Kassel – A look at a sea cucumber does not necessarily give it away, but the sausage-like, sometimes prickly animals are extremely popular. Even the Japanese mafia is now in business. But what makes the sea cucumber so valuable that some people even risk their lives to catch it.
Sea cucumbers are “strange animals” – and they’re getting expensive
After being caught, the sea cucumbers are sold in dry form, pickled in milk for days and boiled. Finally, the animals are skinned before they are prepared, reports Deutschlandfunk . The sea cucumber is either fried, smoked, salted, added to a soup or used as a powder.
“They’re pretty strange animals,” Steven Purcell, a sea cucumber expert, told Business Insider . “They have no limbs, they have no eyes. They have a mouth and they have an anus and a whole bunch of organs in between.” Sea cucumbers can grow from a few millimeters to as long as two meters. They move forward very slowly. There are about 1,250 sea cucumber species worldwide. However, the most coveted is the Japanese sea cucumber – with a market price of up to US$3,500. “Imagine a mystical dragon snail with all these spikes,” says Purcell. “The more prickly the animals, the higher the price.”
In addition to the presentation, the connoisseurs are also interested in thick and tough bodies, but not so much in terms of taste. Especially in Asia, the creatures arouse desire. What’s also appealing about sea cucumbers there is a substance in the body that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries as a remedy for arthritis and other joint problems. Fucosylated glycosaminoglycans have also been discovered in Europe to treat certain types of cancer and reduce blood clots. According to Purcell, western pharmaceutical companies are showing increasing interest in sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers are even considered an aphrodisiac.
Sea cucumbers increasingly popular: Many marine regions are overfished
One consequence of the growing popularity: the coastal regions of many Asian countries are overfished, as reported by Deutschlandfunk. Sri Lanka grants certain fishing licenses, and only to its own population. In India, the catch is now completely banned. The price increases accordingly. “According to expert opinion, almost as much profit can be made with the illegal sea cucumber trade as with drugs,” biologist Mario Ludwig is quoted as saying.
The Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza, illegally fish for sea cucumbers to sell, particularly in Hong Kong. Especially for the sea as an ecosystem, the hunt for sea cucumbers is “a real disaster,” says Mario Ludwig. The excretions supply the sea with nutrients. Global demand has exploded over the past few decades. In the Mexican state of Yucatán, catches fell by 95 percent between 2012 and 2014. And the rarer the animals become, the riskier divers’ endeavors to find them become. According to Steven Purcell, at least 40 divers have died in the Yucatán while searching for the animal. Seven out of more than 70 of the most sought-after sea cucumber species are now classified as endangered. (Luke Rogalla)