The article, published in the most recent issue of the SPC Beche-de-Mer Information Bulletin, analyzes 120 incidents of sea cucumber crime in India and Sri Lanka, between 2015 and 2020.
The Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay, between India and Sri Lanka, is home to a significant licit and illicit sea cucumber fishery. Smuggling and poaching are particularly widespread due to the lack of coordination between the legal jurisdictions of each country. India issued a blanket ban on all sea cucumber fishing in 2001, and sea cucumbers are protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. By contrast, in Sri Lanka sea cucumber harvesting is permitted, but licenses are required for fishing, diving, and export. As a result, criminals frequently attempt to smuggle sea cucumbers they illegally caught in India into Sri Lanka to launder and re-export them to South East Asian markets, where they are sold for food and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Sea cucumber is viewed as a luxury food product and is used in TCM, and the price for sea cucumber has been on the rise. Some species, like the sandfish (Holothuria scabra), can sell for as much as US$1,800/kg, and the white teatfish (H. fuscogilva) sells for US$401/kg.
Analyzing 120 identified sea cucumber poaching and smuggling incidents, Dr. Phelps Bondaroof’s study identified the following:
There has been a marked increase in poaching and smuggling incidents in the past two years.
Across the incidents studied, law enforcement arrested 502 people, with an average of four arrests per incident.
Over 64.7 tons (104,531 individual animals) were seized, with an estimated value of US$2.84 million (₹20.7 crore (INR) or Rs 528.3 billion (LKR).
In addition to seizing live, dead, and processed sea cucumbers, Indian and Sri Lankan authorities also seized 105 vessels, seven vehicles, and considerable quantities of fishing and diving gear.