Online trading of sea cucumber, fish maw in Singapore and Malaysia threatening species' survival

Fish maw and sea cucumber for sale in a market in Sabah, Malaysia. - TRAFFIC

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The thriving online trade and growing appetite for two seafood items - fish maw and sea cucumber - in Singapore and Malaysia are threatening their population in the wild, warned a wildlife trade monitoring organisation.

Notably, several threatened and internationally regulated species, including those protected under Singapore and Malaysia laws, are being sold online, said non-governmental organisation Traffic in a new report released on Friday (Jan 28).

The report, which is calling for more stringent monitoring of the trade in the two marine delicacies, had tracked advertisements and listings for those products online over 11 days in 2020.

It then returned to the sites on Jan 14 this year and found that trade was still active and, in fact, included species not offered in 2020.

Among the sites monitored by Traffic were Singapore-based e-commerce and seafood websites such as Carousell, Shopee, Lazada, Song Fish Dealer and Natural Brand.

Between June 17 and July 6 in 2020, 33 online sites from both countries had numerous listings offering at least 5,540kg of sea cucumber and fish maw products altogether.

Sellers on online trading platforms Tradekey Singapore and Tradekey Malaysia claimed they could supply 4,100kg of sea cucumber, with 2,300kg on a monthly basis and 100kg on a weekly basis, the report highlighted.

"The volumes of sea cucumber and fish maw seen in the online trade in Malaysia and Singapore are large. However, the actual volume of trade is much higher than what was recorded during the assessment," said Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for Traffic in South-east Asia.

"We know this not just because these products are widely available in outlets, but some online sellers also claimed they were able to supply large amounts on a monthly basis."

Fish maw and sea cucumber are two of the four traditional seafood delicacies widely enjoyed in Asia, alongside abalone and shark's fin.

The sea cucumber - which is found on the sea floor worldwide - is highly valued for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. Fish maw refers to the dried swim bladders of large fish such as the sturgeon.

For the report, A Rapid Assessment Of Online Trade In Sea Cucumber And Fish Maw In Malaysia And Singapore, researchers were able to identify about 20 species of sea cucumber put up for sale online. Of these, six species are listed as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Those include the prickly sea cucumber and the sandfish, also known as wen tu shen in Chinese.

Three of the 20 species are currently listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). This means that the trade of the three species, including the white teatfish or zhu po shen, and the black teatfish, must be controlled to ensure their survival and conservation in the wild.

Of the 18 identified taxonomic groups of fish that the fish maw came from, many species of sturgeons are critically endangered under the IUCN Red List. Sturgeons are also listed in Cites.

Under Singapore's Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, businesses need a permit to import and export any Cites-listed species.

In addition to recommending that the authorities monitor both the physical and online trade of these products, the Traffic report suggested countries introduce a traceability system to verify that only legal and sustainable products are sold in the market.

They should also carry out DNA analysis of the products being sold online and in physical stores, so that the species being traded can be better identified.

This will help the authorities to zero in on the proportion of species that are threatened, endangered or prohibited from trade, said the report.

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Singapore , online , trading , sea cucumber , fish maw , threat


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