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*Kamei Gaihiamngam, Fisheries Resource Management Dept. H.mandakini Devi, Post Harvest
Technology Dept. Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Versova, Mumbai ʹ 400061,

Sea cucumbers are a group of commercially important echinoderms. They are fascinating group
of marine animals. Some of them are really very beautiful while alive and are in great demand
for aquaria. Out of 200 species known from Indian oceans, about 75 species of Sea cucumbers
are from shallow water and only a dozen of belong to Holuthuria and Stichopodia. Stichopodia
are large with thick body wall and hence commercially important. Sea cucumbers are found in
exploitable concentration in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, Lakshadweep and Andaman and
Nicobar Islands. They are exclusively marine and economically important. They occur from
supra-littoral zone to hadal zone, coral, rocky, sandy, muddy and mangroves areas. Their sizes
range from few millimeters to about 2 meters long. Over 650 species of Sea cucumbers are
known from different parts of the world. It is distributed from shallow water depth of about
75m to within 200m depth. Large sea cucumbers with a thick body wall are used for processing.
Processed Sea cucumber is known as „    . It is a delicacy for the Chinese. The
processing technique of sea cucumber was introduced by Chinese in India many years back. In
Japan and Korea, the Sea cucumber  

  is consume in fresh condition, but the
Chinese consumed them in after processed. Some species like  
    are fed to
ducks in China. In China, many commercial sea cucumbers are farmed in artificial ponds. Some
varieties of sea cucumber known as gamat in Malaysia or    in Indonesia are said to have
excellent healing properties. There are pharmaceutical companies being built based on gamat.
Extracts are prepared and made into oil, cream, or cosmetics. Some products are intended to
be taken internally.


Kingdom ʹ Animalia
Phylum ʹ Echinoderms
Class ʹ Holuththuroidea
Order - Apoda, Molpadonia, Dendrochirita, Aspidochirot, Elasipoda
Family ʹ Holuthuridae, Stichopodidae etc.
Genus ʹ Holuthuria, Actinopyga, Bohadschia, Pseudocnus etc.
Species ʹ °
    °   ° 
  ° °  
 m   m  

Order is given base on the shape of the tentacles. In Dendrochirita, the tentacles are branched
which help in collection of planktonic food and it is evident when animal is completely relaxed
and undisturbed. In Aspidochiroitids are having palate tentacles with a stalk ending in a bunch.
Majority of the holothurians found in the coral reefs belong to Aspichirotids. In order
Molpodonia, the tentacles are digitate and tube feet absent. In Apoda, the tentacles are
pinnate and tube feet absent as the name suggest. Majority of the worm like Sea cucumber
belong to this order. In order Elasipoda, bizarre appearance with large conical papilla, marginal
rims and tail like appendages. They inhabit deep sea. Many families in Dendrochirota are
separated based on the shape of the calcareous ring. In Aspidochirotes, the female is
differentiated based on body shape and distribution of pedicels and papilla.

The families Holuthuridae and Stichopodidae are large size and thick body wall and hence they
are commercially important. The family Holuthuridae is tabular shape with firm and thick body
wall and gonadal tubules are arranged in a single bunch manner. The family Stichopodidae are
soft body wall and becomes gelatinous when exposure to air. The gonadal tubules are arrange
in 2 bunches. In the genus  
, anal is opening surrounded by five teeth like structure.
But in „
  , anal is opening by five groups of calcareous papilla and cuvierian tubules
profuse. In the genus °
   , anal opening is surrounded by teeth or papilla, a cuvierian
tubules is present but not profuse.

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It is commonly known as Sandfish and is frequently found in c

  beds. It grows up to
length of 400-450mm and reached a size of 1.5kg. The upper side is grey in color with white or
yellow horizontal bands. The lower side is white in color with fine black dots. It is found in silty
sand, often near low saline .They migrate to deeper water for breeding. Fertilization is external
and its larvae feed on 
  . It is the most widely used species after  
and also the most valuable species for processing. It is gregarious in nature and is therefore
easily exploited. Younger forms are distributed near the shore and as they grow they migrate to
deeper waters for breeding. 

Commonly know as Brownfish. It reached a maximum size of 250-400m. Upper surface is a
uniform brown, and small sharp projections present all over the body. The lower side is lighter
in color. It is never found in the intertidal region. Found on clean sand in slightly deeper waters.
It is a highly burrowing form and is usually found in night trawl catches. This species which was
once considered very valuable is now of medium value for processing.

It is commonly known as Lollyfish. Most abundant species of sea cucumber in India and other
countries. It reached a length of 600m. When live one handle give a red fluid stain and is toxic
known as Holuthurin. It prefers to live in areas which are abundant in the calcareous algae
° species on which it feeds. Color is uniformly black. It is a very low value species for
processing and is the most widely distributed.


Commonly known as Teatfish/Mammyfish. It grows up to length of 400m and live one weight
about 2-3 kg. The thickness of body wall is 10-12mm. Six to eight teat like projections are seen
on each side of the body in live specimens. Juveniles may be found on turtle-grass beds. This
species is valuable for processing. Its body is loaf-shaped. Six to eight teat like projections are
seen on each side of the body in live specimens.

Commonly known as Pinkfish. Body is elongated and snake like body. It has a peculiar habit of
sticking its posterior end under a stone. On being disturbed, the animal throws out white sticky
threads. It is uniformly black in color. However, on handling no red color stains the hand and no
sand sticks to the body surface. At present, it is of no commercial value.


It is commonly known as Chalkyfish or Brownfish. The length of body range from 150-350mm,
live one weight about 0.5-2kg. It has a short and thick body with the lower side slightly
flattened. It is a burrowing form and comes out of the mud during cloudy days and at night.
White sticky threads are abundant, which makes difficult of processing. It is a low value species
for processing.

It is commonly known as Leopardfish or Tigerfish. It grows up to length of 600mm. Live weight
about 1-2kg. Distinct eye-spots are found all over the body.

It is commonly known as Blackfish. It reached a length of 300mm and live weight about 0.5-2kg.
It is commercially the most important among the species of  
. It trade name is Tuty
Black. The body is cylindrical shape, with the upper side arched and the lower side flat. Its color
is uniformly black.

It is commonly known as Surf Redfish. Length ranges from 15-30cm and live weight about 0.5-
2kg. The color of live one is brick red on the upper side and white on the lower side. It is found
where the surf breaks on the reefs, firmly attached to coral stones. It is a medium-value species
for processing.
It is commonly known as Deep Water Redfish. Redfish grows up to a length of 300 mm and
reach a maximum weight of 2 kg. The body is wider in the middle and tapersat both ends. The
upper surface is wrinkled, often with fine sand settled over it. The color is uniformly brown. It
attaches itself to rocks with its tube feet. It occurs at depths of between 3 to 7 m. It is a medium
value species for processing.

Ê Ê  

It reaches a length up to 700mm and thickness of the body wall is 15-20mm. Live weight from
1-6kg. It feeds on °    species of calcareous algae. Commonly known as Prickly Redfish. It
is very distinctive in appearance with large pointed teats in groups of two or three all over the
body surface. There are numerous large tube feet on the flat underside. The body is reddish
orange with teats darker than the rest of the body surface. The tube feet on the underside are
bright orange.
Popularly known as Curryfish, in adults the body is four-sided and loaf-shaped. It reached a
length of 900 mm. Larger forms occur in deeper waters. In younger forms the tubercles are
more prominent. They occur on algal beds and on clean sandy bottoms. Alive they are dark
yellow with irregular brown patches. This species is of low value for processing. A pea crab is
known to live in the cloacal chamber.
m„  Ê 
°  spawns twice a year in the Gulf of Mannar. The first spawning peak is from March to
June and the second spawning is from November to December. The first maturity size of
°  female and male is 213mm and 210mm. The fecundity of °  is estimated at 10
lakhs and life span of 10 years. Sea cucumbers communicate with each other by sending
hormone signals through the water. A remarkable feature of Sea cucumbers is the catch
collagen that forms their body wall. Sea cucumbers are typically 10 to 30cm in length, although
the smallest known species is just 3 mm long, and the largest can reach 1m. Sea cucumbers
defend themselves by expelling their sticky cuvierian tubules by enlargements of the
respiratory tree that float freely in the coelom to entangle potential predators. When startled,
it expels some of them through a tear in the wall of the cloaca in an autotomic process known
as evisceration. The release of tubules accompanied by the discharge of a toxic chemical known
as holothurin, which has similar properties to soap. This chemical can kill any animal in the
vicinity and is one more way in which these sedentary animals can defend themselves.
Holothuroidea are generally scavengers, feeding on debris in the benthic zone of the ocean.

The diet of most Sea cucumbers consists of plankton and decaying organic matter found in the
sea. Some sea cucumbers position themselves in currents and catch food that flows by with
their open tentacles. They also sieve through the bottom sediments using their tentacles. Sea
cucumbers have no true brain. Sea cucumbers extract oxygen from water in a pair of
respiratory trees that branch off the cloaca just inside the anus, so that they breathe by
drawing water in through the anus and then expelling it. The trees consist of a series of narrow
tubules branching from a common duct, and lie on either side of the digestive tract. Gas
exchange occurs across the thin walls of the tubules, to and from the fluid of the main body
cavity. Together with the intestine, the respiratory trees also act as excretory organs, with
nitrogenous waste diffusing across the tubule walls in the form of ammonia and phagocytic
coelomocytes depositing particulate waste. Most sea cucumbers reproduce by releasing sperm
and ova into the ocean water. Sea cucumbers are typically dioecious, with separate male and
female individuals, but some species are protandric. A few species are known to brood their
young inside the body cavity, giving birth through a small rupture in the body wall close to the

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In the phylum Echinodermata, only the ripe gonads of some ripe species of sea urchin and
processed body walls of some species of Sea cucumbers are of economic importance. The
processed material or beche-de-mer is actually the boiled and dried skin. In ° 
°    and „ 
 due to excess of spicules in the body wall, they buried after
boiling in wet sand near the shore so that the bacteria in the sand can soften the outer layer of
the skin for easy removal of spicules during washing.


Sea cucumbers are collected for processing by skin divers for a day long. Aluminums plate is
used for the feet instead of flippers. In some place of India, whole catch for processing comes
from trawlers. Collection by Scuba for Sea cucumbers is fortunately not done in India.

Being a soft-bodied animal, have to be handle with proper care after collection since the value
of the product depends on the shapes, size. Sea cucumbers should avoid exposed from sun
after collection for processing, since the top surface dries up and peel off.  
should never be exposed to air for long time since the body wall becomes gelatinous rendering
them unfit for processing.

They are clean in sea water to remove dried slime, sand, dirt and other extraneous particles,
left-over guts and entrails. It is desirable to squeeze the Sea cucumber during cleaning to
remove the water trapped that animals would have consumed during storage.
At the posterior end, a slit of 20-30mm is made with a sharp knife for the ° °   
and „ 
 species. The gonads, respiratory trees and intestines spill out of the slit
immediately. For some species of Sea cucumber like  
 no degutting is necessary. But
in the case of °  due to long length it is cut at both ends to remove all the internal
organs. When a skin is very thick like ° 
  , a cut is made on the dorsal side in the middle
leaving 30mm at each end. The internal organs are still remained or left inside the body are
removed and cleaned in sea water.

It is the important steps of processing of Sea cucumber since the quality of the final product
depend on the shape of the vessel boiled Sea cucumber and the stirring done during boiling.
Sea cucumber are always boiled in sea water for about 1 hour, however the duration of boiling
defer from the size of specimens. A distinct odour comes out indicate to end the boiling. A
bouncing test can be done to test whether boiling is sufficient or not. Usually boiling is done in
200 litres oil drum by sealing both end and cut on the horizontal plane. The material is allowed
to roll during boiling due to stirring. It should boil the material in flat saucer shaped cast iron
pan to allow roll during stirring.

It is buried in the pit dug in shore where the sand is moist. Lining is given by gunny bags in the
pit and boiled material is place into that. A material is covered by gunny bag and finally covered
by moist sand. The bacteria in the shore sand acts on the outer layer of the skin loosen all the
calcareous materials. It is generally kept for 15-18 hours for the bacteria to act on the outer
layer of the skin. If the boiled material is kept inside the pit for too long, the inner flesh will be
eaten up by the bacteria leaving ugly pit in the surface rendering the materials useless for

After burying for 15-18 hours, the material is removed from the pit and put into palm fibre
woven basket. At the time, bacteria will be acted on the outer body wall and makes the body
wall soft. Then, the material is thoroughly scrubbed and washed clean with fresh sea water.
Material which free from white material sticking to its is once again boiled in sea water for
about 4-5 minutes to kill the bacteria sticking to them.

It is one of the most crucial operations in the processing of sea cucumber. The best method of
drying is sun drying compared to smoke drying. It takes 5-6 days for complete drying when the
sunlight is good. They should not be bone dried. Moisture content of 8-10% is usually desirable.
The material should not keep directly on sand or rocks to avoid from dirt and sand stick to the
material. Beche-de-mer is a hygroscopic material. During rainy season, it absorbs water.
Therefore, the material should be packed in polythene sheets.
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The Sea cucumbers do not attempt to escape from the capture and do not have any resistance
at the time of capture. Therefore, they are quickly overexploited from any particular region.
Addition to overexploitation problem, they are slow growing animals and take 2 years to reach
full size. Despite these drawbacks, the fishery is able to sustain survive, though on a low scale,
due to their high fecundity, cryptic habits, low value which will not allow all the Sea cucumber
to be collected.


It is most important measure for conservation of Sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers shrink by 42%
on processing. The export of „     sample below 75mm length is banned by
Government of India in 1982 and this banned is still enforce


Is should not be fished whole year for processing. Closed season of Sea cucumbers fishing
during breeding season must be strictly adopted.

The certain areas of Sea cucumber breeding grounds and also juveniles concentration area
should closed from collection and totally banned.



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