Overview Objectives

The two major objectives are:
to test a new livelihood option in the Philippines and Australia through releasing cultured sandfish in managed inshore habitats then allowing communities to harvest them at market size after 3 years
to replenish selected sandfish populations in the Philippines through restocking into marine reserves, designed to rebuild a critical mass of spawning adults.

Project Background and Objectives

Overfishing of sea cucumbers and consequent lost livelihoods of artisanal fishers have precipitated a crisis throughout the tropics. Underscoring the severity of this problem, the United Nations-FAO and ACIAR have undertaken a range of initiatives to improve tools for managing sea cucumber fisheries.

Stocks of one sea cucumber, the ‘sandfish’ (Holothuria scabra) - a high-value species easily harvested from inshore habitats - have been chronically over-exploited throughout the Asia-Pacific. A priority is better fisheries management, and aquaculture and stocking technologies can motivate communities into conserving wild breeding stocks while generating income and speeding stock recovery. Commercial operations have recently invested in on-growing sandfish within leased sea beds, referred to as ‘sea ranching’. Using optimal hatchery and stocking methods, this nascent approach could be economically viable. Alternatively, breeding populations in reserves could be ‘restocked’ to rejuvenate larval supply to nearby fishing grounds. In addressing these possibilities, this project is designed to apply the technology arising from two earlier ACIAR projects - one for producing sandfish in hatcheries (FIS/1995/703) and the other for releasing them in the wild (FIS/1999/025).

Progress Reports (Year 1, 2, 3 etc)

Since Project start-up on 1st June 2007 and the conduct of Project Inception meeting on 30 July - 3 August 2007 at the UP-MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory, Philippines, the following has been accomplished and they are elaborated in the Annex sections of this report:

Completed upgrading of the hatchery and initiated production of sandfish juveniles at the UP-MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory as well as sea ranching activities in two villages (i.e., Victory and Silaki) in Bolinao, Philippines;

Initiated production of sandfish juveniles for Davao node, preparation of High ponds for larval/juvenile rearing, and initial consultations with communities in Barangay Bato, Davao, Philippines);

Initiated construction of hatchery at NIFTDC in Dagupan, Philippines and aided NFRDI to produce sandfish juveniles;

Site assessments for potential restocking experiment were conducted in Northern Luzon, Philippines;

NT node coordinator continued contact with project key personnel in Australia (i.e., Warruwi Community, DAFF and Tasmanian Seafoods) while awaiting project funding from the Aboriginal Business Account;

Organization and conduct of the “Hatchery Operations Training” from 24 March to 15 April 2008 at NIFTDC and UP-MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory. The training was participated by key project staff from the Philippines, i.e., NFRDI, UP-MSI and UP-Min including BFAR Regional staff;

Organization and conduct of the “Release Strategy Workshop” on 14-18 April 2008 at NIFTDC in Dagupan and UP-MSI Bolinao Marine Laboratory. The workshop was participated by key research partners in the Philippines and Australia including scientist from Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam; and

Participation of key project staff in various national meetings/reviews and planning sessions in support of the National Extension and Advisory Group.

Annex 7 indicates the Projects’ Financial semi-annual report covering the period 1 December to 31 May 2008.

Hatchery production of sandfish
Significant progress has been made with the production of juvenile sandfish for sea ranching trials. In year 2 of the project, this has involved initiating new production nodes, as well as improving methods and removing ‘bottlenecks’ in existing systems. The Bolinao node produced ca. 26,300 juveniles (>3g) between May 2007 to September 2008. Typhoon damage to the newly constructed hatchery at Dagupan (National Fisheries Research and Development Institute) delayed commissioning until temporary repairs could be affected in May 2008. About 6,300 juveniles were produced from July - December 2008, of which about 4,000 were used for sea ranching trials in the northern Luzon area.
Due to difficulties with transporting broodstock and juveniles from Bolinao to Mindanao, a production facility was established in Mindanao. Spawning trials also conducted with Alsons Corporation (a private hatchery). From an approved objective of producing 10,000 juveniles per year, this node has produced 2,000 sandfish to-date, however it is clear here also that significant progress in shifting production bottlenecks has been made. All production nodes reported significant dividends in hatchery survival following a visit to the RIA 3 hatchery facility in Nha Trang, Vietnam. The largest constraints (bottlenecks) for production are now post-hatchery, and relate to appropriate technology and facilities for juvenile on-growing.
Establishing sea ranching trials
Good progress was made in engaging communities and local government units in the project. Five sea ranching sites have been established in collaboration with People’s Organisations (POs) or other local actors, and are in varying stages of development. Partners in four sites have permits from the local government to manage and exclusively harvest sea cucumbers in the 5 hectare sea ranching area. Socio-economic and biophysical assessments, and monitoring of growth and survival of released juveniles were conducted at the four more advanced sites.
The first site (Victory, Bolinao Pangasinan) was formally established in September 2007. It is managed by a local fisher organization. Following on from the first year releases of 5,011 hatchery-reared juveniles (> 3g), a further 11,106 juveniles were released in year 2 (target 10,000). Monitoring of growth and survival is progressing well, although the staining techniques adopted to identify released individuals are not proving to be satisfactory. Alternatives will be investigated. Releases of between 5,500 and 2000 juveniles have occurred at 3 other sites. The least advanced site (Barangay Libuak, Mindinao) is currently being surveyed, and the process of obtaining permits has commenced.
The initial plan to conduct sea ranching trials with Aboriginal communities in Australia has not come to fruition at this stage. This component was initially contingent on substantial additional funding from sources within Australia, and this funding has not eventuated. Alternative approaches to working with these communities are currently being investigated.
Restocking trials
Following significant effort on site assessment and selection, it was clear that conducting valid, controlled trials to assess the success of stock enhancement would not be feasible. It was therefore proposed that the restocking experiment not be pursued as part of this project. This decision was endorsed recently by the mid-project review panel.
Project Review
On 4 - 5 June 2009, a mid-project review was conducted in Manila to assess progress against milestones, and provide an adaptive implementation process to re-focus the research on issues identified to be limiting progress. A mid-term review panel comprising representatives from the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and Philippine national institutions involved in resource management and development recommended a number of revisions to the planned program and for ACIAR to continue to invest in the project for a further 2 years. Among the most significant changes was the inclusion of a new partner (SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department) in the Philippines, implementing new research on pond production of sandfish, and including a Vietnam node in the project with a focus on pond-based production.

Hatchery production and nursery systems:
Capacity to regularly and repeatedly produce sandfish juveniles continues to improve at varying rates across the 6 production nodes (4 in Philippines, 1 in Vietnam, 1 in Australia). The new partnership with RIA 3 (Vietnam) has contributed significantly to the capacity of the group in this area, with several exchanges taking place between Vietnam and Philippines. The recent completion of a purpose-built hatchery facility at SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department, Iloilo, Philippines, will add significantly to the capacity of the project for hatchery production, training of partners and scaling out to industry. At the Vietnam node, pond-based nursery production of both 5g and 30-50g juveniles for provision to industry participants has been very successful, with farmers keen on larger juveniles due to shorter grow-out periods. A continued and important focus is possible alternative systems for nursery production where ponds are not available.
Sea-ranching trials:
Some 65,000 hatchery produced sandfish have now been released in cooperation with local community groups across 4 sites in Philippines (3 in northern Luzon, 1 in Mindanao). Monitoring has continued showing variable growth and survival rates, and shedding new light on the viability of different models of sea ranching. Negative growth was seen following storm action from 2 typhoons at the Victory site in Northern Luzon, and it appears that the loss of organic components in sediments following the storm may be the driver of this decrease. Significantly, sampling of chemically tagged individuals at one site has shown substantial movement beyond the gazetted ranching site, raising some concerns about the size of ranching areas, and the ‘uncaged’ model of sea ranching. Small numbers of sandfish have been harvested from sea ranching areas although low wet:dry weight ratios (about 3%) have been observed. Security issues at 3 sites (loss due to poaching) have largely been overcome though combinations of improved guarding and community dialogue. Following complications that rendered a chosen site inappropriate, a final site for the Mindanao node (Barangay Tambo) has recently been selected, and discussions with the People’s Organisation have been positive and productive.
Spawning of hatchery-produced stock:
Successful spawning of hatchery-produced sandfish (male and female) was observed at ranching sites in northern Luzon, with synchronised spawning at 2 spatially isolated sites. This confirms that hatchery-produced sandfish can generate viable spawning stocks, and lends support to the possibility of effective stock enhancement.
Australian trial - Goulburn Island:
A redesigned Australian pilot trial has commenced, with successful community consultations and site selection visits with aboriginal groups on Goulburn Island and Groote Eylandt. Sampling protocols have been designed, and pilot trials will soon commence. Permits are currently being sort to allow local communities to harvest and process sea cucumbers. The industry partner (Tasmanian Seafoods Pty Ltd) has agreed to supply processing equipment and train community members in processing methods. Delays with hatchery production have seen the schedule for large-scale releases moved back to early 2011, with smaller pilot releases to be conducted from 3rd quarter 2010.
Pond and co-culture trials:
Preliminary tank-based co-culture trials with five species of finfish (at SEAFDEC AQD) and vannamei shrimp (at RIA3, Vietnam) have been completed. Four species of finfish proved to be viable for early stages of co-culture, while some issues were encountered with shrimp trials; shrimp at semi-intensive farming densities were deleterious to sandfish growth and survival, and further trials are being undertaken. Rotational culture is being trialled by several cooperating farmers in Vietnam, with good results to date. A co-ordinated harvest of 5 t of cultured sandfish from a number of ponds resulted in keen interest from buyers, and a good price for product.
Value-chain analysis and bio-economic modelling:
A value chain analysis in Philippines is mostly complete. This includes a detailed analysis of the ‘value added’ at each node of the chain, and leads to a comprehensive characterisation of the industry at all levels. Options for value-chain upgrading are highlighted. This analysis will be repeated in Vietnam later this year, with distant market surveys (Singapore, Hong Kong and China) completing the analysis.
Preliminary bio-economic models as developed in FIS-2007-117 were presented to a group of researchers, government agencies and industry participants for input and comment. Suggestions have been incorporated, and a second draft of these models is now available to be circulated to project nodes for testing. Incorporation of empirical growth, survival and cost data will be incorporated in the next iteration of models.

Project ID
Project Country
Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
WorldFish Center, Malaysia
Project Leader
Dr David Mills
07 4781 6747
07 4781 6722
Collaborating Institutions
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australia
University of the Philippines, Philippines
University of the Philippines, Mindanao, Philippines
James Cook University, Australia
Tasmanian Seafoods Pty Ltd, Australia
National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, Philippines
Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 3, Vietnam
Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre, Philippines
Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources, Australia
Project Budget
Start Date
Finish Date
Extension Start Date
Extension Finish Date
ACIAR Research Program Manager
Dr Chris Barlow
Related Project IARCS