From all outward appearances, the rubbery and slimy sea cucumber looks anything but appetizing. But in Asia, they are viewed as a delicacy.
There is a growing overseas market for the sea slug, which is commonly found in Florida Keys waters. The emerging market has the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) considering tighter restrictions on sea cucumber harvesting.
The FWC board will vote Wednesday on a proposal to limit the daily commercial harvest of sea cucumbers to 200 per vessel per day, according to spokeswoman Amanda Nalley. Currently, commercial fishermen with a basic saltwater products license can harvest as many as they want.
There are roughly 160 commercial sea cucumber harvesters from the Keys to Palm Beach County with a majority of the collecting occurring in the Keys, according to FWC data. Several of the collectors sell to the Florida Sea Cucumber Corp. on Ramrod Key.
Florida Sea Cucumber Corp. owner Erik Lee plans to voice his opposition to the 200-per vessel daily quota when the FWC meets Wednesday in Tampa. Lee contended that the allowable daily catch should be more in the 500 to 800 range.
"That would run me out of business," Lee said of the 200 per vessel per day proposal. He argued that he can only afford to pay fishermen between $1 to 50 cents per sea cucumber. Being allowed to take just 200 would barely cover the fishermen's fuel bills and other costs, Lee said.