FWC endorses sea-cucumber limit of 200 a day

kwadlow@keynoter.comApril 19, 2014 

Sea cucumbers are popular in Asian markets.

KEYSINFONET

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday authorized a new catch limit spurred by a fledgling Lower Keys seafood business.

Beginning June 1, a daily bag limit of 200 sea cucumbers will be imposed on a relatively small group of professional fish collectors licensed to catch commercial quantities of the sea cucumbers, an invertebrate animal.

That limit of 200 daily likely would force the Florida Sea Cucumber processing facility on Ramrod Key to close, company owner Eric Lee said earlier this week.

The Florida Marine Life Association, the only professional organization for the state's 160 licensed commercial fish collectors, strongly supported the 200-cucumber daily limit.

About 14,000 to 16,000 Florida sea cucumbers typically are sold alive for use in saltwater aquariums annually.

The prospect of increasing that harvest by a factor of three or more to supply a potential Asian market that uses sea cucumbers as a prized food or nutritional supplement concerned state biologists.

No one knows how many Florida sea cucumbers exist or how many could be taken without endangering the population, biologists said.

"The rapid, unregulated development of sea cucumber export fisheries elsewhere in the world has led to fishery collapses and sea cucumber depletions," said an FWC spokesman said.

"Sea cucumbers are vulnerable to overfishing due to their sedentary nature, which makes them easy to locate and collect," according to the FWC. "They are ecologically important as they help cycle nutrients in nutrient-poor tropical reefs and oxygenate sediments."

In another issue of Keys concern, the FWC, meeting in Havana, near Tallahassee, moved toward increasing the harvest of invasive lionfish.

"Anything we can do to limit new lionfish introductions and further facilitate the development of a commercial market for this invasive species is a step in the right direction," said state Rep. Holly Raschein (D-Key Largo), sponsor of a legislative bill to ban importation of live lionfish and the aquaculture of lionfish.

The FWC endorsed passage of the bill.

Lionfish harvest

If approved at a final public hearing in June, the FWC will allow the harvest of lionfish when diving with a scuba rebreather, a device that does not emit bubbles (basically, divers rebreathe their own air) and allows divers to remain submerged longer.

Currently, rebreathers cannot be used to spearfish.

The state also seeks to create a new permit that allowing participants in approved tournaments or organized events to spear lionfish or other invasive species in waters where spearfishing is not normally legal.

Lionfish are a voracious, fast-breeding Pacific species that has no natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean. An increase in lionfish numbers could threaten native fish species.

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