Beche-de-mer, also known as ‘sea cucumbers’ or trepang, are in the Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea. They are soft-bodied, elongated animals that usually live on the sea floor.
Western Australia’s beche-de-merfishery is primarily based in the northern half of the State, from Exmouth Gulf to the Northern Territory border, however fishers do have access to all Western Australian waters.
It is a hand-harvest fishery, with animals caught principally by diving, and a smaller amount by wading. While six species have been taken, prior to 2007 it was primarily a single species fishery, with 99% of the catch being sandfish (Holothuria scabra).
An additional species (deepwater redfish -Actinopyga echinites) was also caught between 2007 – 2010.
The developing fishery for beche-de-mer is managed through input controls including limited entry, maximum number of divers, species-dependent minimum legal size limits, and gear restrictions. Access to the fishery is limited to the six Fishing Boat Licence holders allowed to operate under a Ministerial exemption allowing the take of beche-de-mer.
Generally a vessel employs 4 to 6 crew with one of those a master and the others either a deckhand or divers. Processing of the product, which is sold into the Asian market, creates additional jobs and these activities are mostly located in the Northern Territory where the fishing fleet is based.