Sea cucumber demand outstripping supply in China

Published on
May 12, 2020

Earnings at one of China’s leading producers of sea cucumbers suggest the country’s demand for the species is rising.

Shandong Homey Aquatic Development saw its revenues rise 6.64 percent in 2019 to CNY 1.22 billion (USD 168 million, EUR 156 million) while net profit increased by 4.86 percent to CNY 65.05 million (USD 9.1 million, EUR 8.45 million). The average selling price of its fresh seafood rose by 5.78 percent to CNY 137.32 (USD 19.2, EUR 17.81) per kilo. Company output at 3,292 tons was up 13.8 percent year-on-year.

Homey’s financials for 2019 on the face of it look better than those for other listed Chinese seafood firms focused on crustaceans or tilapia, Chinese independent seafood trader Michael Peng told SeafoodSource. Demand for sea cucumbers is currently outstripping supply, Peng said.

“The supplies of fresh sea cucumber in China are only produced in the north [largely in Liaoning and Shandong provinces] and are not meeting the demands at all,” Peng told SeafoodSource. “Sea cucumbers have a long history of being served on traditional food in the south, in China, but because sea cucumbers are not produced in the south, they are often sold dry, and this means they’re also more convenient to be kept at home.”

The market, he said, has been shifting.

“There is a very dynamic dry sea cucumber market on the south, mainly in Guangdong and Guangxi, and now dominated by the trading companies from Hong Kong and Singapore,” he said. “If we can imported direct we can definitely break into the market with a lot of more competitive pricing. There is always a substantial market in China for this product. If we can create a good supplier base, there is money to be made.”

Licensed suppliers from Canada and elsewhere have been shipping sea cucumber into China for some time. Exporters from Egypt, Nicaragua, Mexico and Morocco are also trying to jump into the trade and are actively seeking Chinese buyers for wild-caught sea cucumbers, some with unverifiable catch histories, according to unsolicited sales pitches sent to SeafoodSource in recent weeks.

China’s rising demand for sea cucumbers has created a wave of smuggling, some of it by criminal gangs, from sources as far-flung as Africa, Mexico, and Papua New Guinea. Because they’re seen as essential to ocean ecosystems, sea cucumbers are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and require special permits to handle.

Numerous cases of sea cucumber smuggling have been prosecuted in the U.S. in recent years, usually featuring transshipments bound for China or Hong Kong. 

Photo courtesy of xiaorui/Shutterstock

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