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Sea cucumbers in a pickle: the economic geography of the serial exploitation of sea cucumbers

Kathryn Rawson, Mount Holyoke College
Porter Hoagland, Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


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Serial exploitation comprises a pattern of the human exploitation of wild harvest fisheries, where previously untapped species or locations come under exploitation over both space and time. Unless managed sustainably, serial exploitation can lead to serial depletion of local fisheries, thereby adversely affecting local ecosystems, economies, and communities. Serial depletion is an archetypal problem of the Anthropocene, as its occurrence depends on trade linkages between consumers in one location and suppliers from sometimes geographically very distant fisheries. Invertebrates, especially echinoderms such as sea cucumbers, are subject to serial exploitation that is occurring now on a global scale. We found that the serial depletion of sea cucumbers was consistent with variability in the global mean price for sea cucumbers. When local fisheries are depleted, price tends to rise; a rising price signals previously unexploited fisheries to begin supplying the market. This cycle repeats itself, spreading from the regional to the global scale. Improved understanding of what drives serial exploitation may allow for more successful management of sea cucumber fisheries in the future.

Key words

Anthropocene; bêche-de-mer; echinoderms; global markets; serial exploitation

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087