FWC taking a longer look at regulating sea-cucumber take

kwadlow@keynoter.comFebruary 22, 2014 

This is a Florida sea cucumber. They're popular as food and for medicinal purposes in Asia.

KEYSINFONET

On second thought, the state's proposed limit on taking sea cucumbers has been pushed further down the calendar.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission initially decided at its Feb. 12 meeting to follow the agency's staff recommendation for a boat limit of 200 animals per day for sea cucumbers, to become effective April 1.

A story in the Keynoter's Feb. 15 edition reflected that discussion and action. However, the matter of sea cucumbers returned to the FWC board later in the Tampa meeting for a procedural clarification.

FWC commissioners then tabled action and instructed staff to consider "other potential options" for managing sea cucumbers, FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said Monday. The issue likely will be back on the agenda for FWC board's meeting in April or June.

Until then, current law on the echinoderms (invertebrates similar to starfish) remains in effect.

Sea cucumbers can be taken in commercial quantities only by the 160 people who hold Florida licenses as professional marine-life collectors. Most of the commercial collectors harvest live fish and invertebrates for the aquarium business. 

Florida Sea Cucumber Corp., which established a processing facility on Ramrod Key, seeks to buy large quantities of Florida sea cucumbers to sell in Asian markets as a food product or medicinal supplement.

Eric Lee, owner of Florida Sea Cucumber, said the 200-animal daily limit would "definitely" force the firm to close. He requested a daily limit of 500 to 800 and pledged to launch an aquaculture program to release juvenile sea cucumbers into the ocean.

The Florida Marine Life Association, which represents many of the licensed commercial fish collectors, strongly supports the 200 daily limit for sea cucumbers and is wary of harvesting the echinoderms as a food source.

"We don't want to be responsible for eradicating a living species in the Florida Keys," Marine Life Association President Jeff Turner said.

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