Dr Aipia has no experience beche-de-mer farming: MFMR rule out

Sea Cucumber expert Dr Toru and Fisheries Director Mr Honiwala at the MFMR sea cucumber hatchery.
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Sea Cucumber expert Dr Toru and Fisheries Director Mr Honiwala at the MFMR sea cucumber hatchery.

MINISTRY of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) has ruled out that medical practitioner Dr Reginald Aipia and his American consultant have no experience on beche-de-mer farming.

Dr Aipia and his American business consultant Erik W. Hagberg have been charged over allegedly operating five illegal beche-de-mer farms in Ongtong Java atolls in the Malaita Outer Islands.

The ministry however, claimed this is because the farming method operated by Dr Reginald Aipia and his associate was done in open waters and has lack of control over eggs and larvae.

Director Fisheries Mr Edward Honiwala and Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation (OFCF) sea cucumber expert, Dr Toru Komatsu told The Island Sun during a visit to the MFMR beche-de-mer hatchery, where sea cucumber species Stichopushorrens commonly known with trade name peanut fish is hatched for restocking in project targeted areas in the country.

“They have no experience on sea cucumber farming,” said Dr Toru, before adding, “Beche-de-mer farming is not that easy, what they have done was keeping beche-de-mer in captivity in the wild, and not to protect eggs or larvae.”

Director Mr Honiwala adds that what the ministry sees is that, the farms have no control over, compared to what the MFMR is doing – everything is in a controlled environment.

But he adds, although it is in a controlled environment, survival rate of eggs and larvae is still very low.

“What about a bunch of farms operated in the wild, survival rate of eggs and larvae will be even much worse according to the biological characteristics of beche-de-mer,” adds Dr Toru.

“Mr Aipia and his American consultant may have collected information from published papers or success stories from elsewhere,” the two claimed.

The two claimed that according to reports, about 600 to 700 bigger beche-de-mer were taken from the wild and thrown in the five sea cucumber farming fence.

“People may think the beche-de-mers are harvested from the farm but actually those were the same sea cucumbers taken from the wild, and that is the fear of the ministry,” they mentioned.

However, the Ontong Java Association (OJA) are anticipating Aipia gets approval from the government to continue with the farm project.

“Beche-de-mer farming is the future for our people, with this farming process is one way to help us through years of crying to the government for lifting the ban. It is better to farm and harvest rather than the usual harvesting.

Erik W. Hagberg in a document, cited that six sea cucumber farm sites were established to create sea cucumber breeding aggregations; and to hold brood stock for induced spawning.

It cited that breeding pens were stocked with rock aggregate and live rock to create ideal sea cucumber habitat and retain fertilized eggs.

Sheltered island pool were also used for breeding aggregation of appropriate sea cucumber species, and inoculated with fertilized sea cucumber eggs.

Meanwhile, the OFCF resources management project established a marine hatchery at the MFMR with a view to research the biology of sea cucumber species Stichopushorrens commonly known with trade name peanut  fish.

Research work has successfully closed the life cycle of peanut fish and produced small numbers of juveniles.

Dr Toru said last month they have hatched seven million eggs, and so far they have released 1000 plus juveniles in their home.

The juvenile peanut fish produced have been used for restocking trial at Marau, east Guadalcanal Island and this year the project also covers a marine protected area in San Fly, Central island province.

The hatchery concentrates on peanut fish farming because it is high price species, to which MFMR has been farming for the past five years.