Is it Okay to Pick Up a Sea Cucumber?

Although it may be tempting to pick up a sea cucumber, it is best to avoid doing so. These creatures are benthic, meaning they live on the seabed, but their young float in streams and are considered planktonic animals.

Sea cucumber is a delicacy that has been a symbol of wealth and luxury

, and is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings, banquets and Chinese New Year celebrations. All sea cucumber species breathe by dilating the anal sphincter to suck water into the rectum, where specialized structures called respiratory trees (buttocks and lungs) extract oxygen molecules from the water. The problem with that proximity, according to experts, is the availability of edible organic matter that attracts sea cucumbers.

Taken out of the water, sea cucumbers are gutted, packed with salt, boiled, dried again, dried again, and then sent to markets in Hong Kong and Singapore. It is hard to imagine that anyone would want to eat a sea cucumber due to its unappealing texture. Sea cucumber populations have been decimated off the coasts of Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Venezuela and Hawaii. The Nature Conservancy is working with communities in Papua New Guinea to establish sustainable management of their sea cucumber fisheries, in the hope of protecting these creatures and ensuring stable incomes for rural communities. In those environments, sea cucumbers needed four to five years to reach the harvestable size. However, populations around the world are collapsing because sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.

As the sea cucumber pumps water in and out to breathe, the fish move slowly but steadily to get in. Every year, in autumn, sea cucumbers reabsorb all their organs and go into a kind of winter hibernation. I am a consultant for projects to grow sea cucumbers for the lucrative Chinese market; that's why I've studied them for many years and find them fascinating. If a sea cucumber dies of hunger, instead of turning around dead, it simply eats itself, getting smaller and smaller.

Sherman Downard
Sherman Downard

Experienced Chef, who specialises in dried seafood recipes and ingredient selection. Dried Sea cucumber, Dried scallops, abalone, fish maw and most of Asian favourites. Freelance enthusiast. Certified social media practitioner. Extreme fusion recipes lab

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