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Research Document 2018/024

An Assessment of the Sea Cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa) Resource on the St. Pierre Bank (NAFO Subdivision 3Ps) in 2016

By Pantin, J. R., Coughlan, E. J., Hynick, E. M., and Skanes, K. R.


The Sea Cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa) has been reported almost circumpolar in the northern hemisphere. Populations off Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) are normally found in waters down to 100 m, usually on hard bottom with a cobble-shell-boulder substrate composition.

In 2003, a Sea Cucumber drag fishery, under the umbrella of the New Emerging Fisheries Policy, was established on the St. Pierre Bank with eight participants sharing a total allocation of 454 t. As part of the emerging fishery, the same eight harvesters entered into a five year Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to conduct a resource assessment survey and subsequent exploratory fishery which took place from 2004 to 2008. The Sea Cucumber emerging fishery formally transitioned to a commercial fishery in 2012. The allocation gradually increased to 2,242 t in 2013, where it has remained.

There are two Sea Cucumber fishing areas on the Canadian portion of the St. Pierre Bank, one northwest and one southeast of the French Economic Zone. The fishery has focused primarily on the northwest portion of the St. Pierre Bank, and in 2010, the southeast area was closed to fishing as a conservation measure to preserve the resource in this area until the effects of fishing on the northwest area could be evaluated.

A DFO Sea Cucumber survey on the St. Pierre Bank was carried out in September 2016, which covered the entire southeast area and 23% of the northwest area. Based on this research survey a Peer Review Process for the assessment of Sea Cucumber in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Subdivision 3Ps took place in February 2017.

Sea Cucumber landings averaged approximately 1,200 t since 2010, the exception being 2015 with landings of 2,297 t. The catch per unit effort (CPUE) increased at the beginning of the fishery (2003) to 2008 and has since remained stable with a mean CPUE of 597 kg/tow. The biomass indices based on the emerging Sea Cucumber fishery surveys from 2004 to 2008 (excluding 2005) averaged 89 kt in the northwest area and 210 kt in the southeast area. The 2005 estimate was not considered reliable due to gear configuration issues. In 2016, the Sea Cucumber biomass index was 187 kt in the southeast area, and the survey in the northwest area was incomplete. The Sea Cucumber abundance index in 2016 in the southeast area was above the 2004-08 average. Sea Cucumber length, weight, and girth measurements from the 2016 survey indicate that Sea Cucumber in the northwest area are heavier and larger than in the southeast area. Sustainable exploitation rates and mortality are unknown and, given the uncertainties regarding this species on the St. Pierre Bank, provide no scientific basis for assessing the risk of any increase in harvest level.

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