Are Chinese Training Locals in North on Sea Cucumber Breeding?

The sea cucumber farm in the Northern Province has become a hot topic ‘internationally’. It is a joint venture between three companies, one being a Chinese company named Gui Lan (Pvt) Ltd. and two Sri Lankans. Sea cucumber farming was officially agreed upon in April 2021, according to a document obtained by Ceylon Today.

It’s about the Chinese in the Northern Province who have attracted many into doing a business of an untouched market – sea cucumber, something that the Sri Lankans were not introduced to on big scale.

In 2015, the SL Aquatech International commenced commercial seed production of sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra) and it was the very first commercial hatchery established in Sri Lanka. Also, this Company has been involved in the breeding of sea cucumber, since 2015, in their hatchery at Ambakandawila, Chilaw in small-scale. This company produced advanced juveniles in nursery ponds at Muthupanthiya. This hatchery and the nursery ponds are supervised by the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA)

The new sea cucumber farms – part of the sea located in Ariyalai and in Gowdarimunai, some 6km distance from each.

Gowdarimuani is where the sea cucumber hatchery is located and it is run by the Chinese company.

The land for the hatchery has been leased for 10 years by a local in the Jaffna peninsula. Under the Technology transfer act of 1996, Act No. 3, under the ethical approach, the license has been obtained, it has been revealed.

The licence for the hatchery has been obtained from the NAQDA though the Gowdarimunai Fisheries society.

According to reliable sources, even the Fisheries society has not obtained the licence as it is a new project, however, the Government is speeding up the process to let the Chinese breed sea cucumber in Jaffna.

It is also revealed that the Fisheries Ministry has already earmarked a sea cucumber hatchery farm on the Delft Island (Nedunthivu) and the survey had been conducted last week.

There is a history of good sea cucumber found in the waters that had not been tapped for a long time. The Chinese have been advised that Northern Province is ideal for sea cucumber farms. Hence, they entered the North as a partner and today they are selling each juvenile sea cucumber for exports at a rate of Rs 25, Ceylon Today learns.

Sea cucumber is found in plenty in the Sri Lankan waters, however it is not a favorite sea food of Sri Lankans and there is no demand for it in the local market.

The Chinese have tapped the market and brilliantly, at that. However, the Fisheries Minister says that they would in future let the Chinese train the locals in sea cucumber hatching and hand over the business to the locals.

The international market for sea cumber is huge. The Alibaba online market has advertised 1kg of dried sea cucumber at between USD 120 -180.

Currently, Sri Lanka is exporting 300MT of sea cucumber per annum generating revenue of some USD 10 million. Also, 90 per cent of the sea cucumber is exported to China, NAQDA said.

China is selling as well as buying Sri Lanka’s sea cucumber, but breeding and selling sea cucumber in the Northern Province seems to be benefiting the Chinese at large. The market value being so huge, sea cucumber production can reap much more than what it does now in terms of price.

Sea cucumber cultivation existed in Sri Lanka from 2013 but on a small scale. However, it was only when the Chinese were spotted in Jaffna, that the people were alerted. This is perhaps due to the geopolitical tension in which Sri Lanka is trapped. However, there is a demand for this creature and the export of sea cucumber has been a considerably good deal at a time when Sri Lanka is facing a financial crisis.

It is said that only the Chinese have the know-how techniques from the hatchery to adult sea cucumber, which is one of the exquisite delicacies served in many parts of the world, including the Far Eastern region.

Tamil National Alliance MP Sritharan revealed about the Chinese in the North, however the fact remains that they have been at the Gowdarimuani hatchery only from April this year. The MP claimed it is part of the sea in Gowdarimuani where the Chinese are stationed and since there are no human settlers around and it in the corner of a lagoon, no one knew there was a hatchery in operation.

Many of MP Sritharan’s claims were dismissed by the Government officials, yet, the Chinese are the only ones who know the technique of artificial insemination to hatch sea cucumber for exports. Will they be stationed there for too long? The Government says they will not.

The Chinese are involved only in nursing of the sea cucumber until they reach 8cm as juvenile sea cucumber and then they are transferred to the farm in Ariyalai that is run by the Jaffna Sea Cucumber Cultivators’ Association and their society.

Once the nursing of the sea cucumber is over, which takes about 25 days, it is transferred to the farm until it become an adult of 2 inches or five grams. These are sold to cucumber farmers who are involved in exports.

A NAQDA official said the Chinese are engaged in breeding using the artificial insemination process.

The Chinese help in breeding the creatures and thereafter the locals attend to the nursing, farming and processing before they are exported, noted the NAQDA official.

The Chinese company’s licence will expire in November 2021 (three months from now). It is believed that the Minister of Fisheries, Douglas Devananda, will consider keeping them for another year or so until the breeding techniques of sea cucumber, using artificial insemination, is learnt by local producers. The Minister has told several local media that once the locals learn the techniques, the Chinese would be made to leave and the locals allowed to run the business entirely, according to NAQDA.

Currently, 25 persons are employed in the Northern Province sea cucumber farm and about four Chinese are stationed, there added the official from NAQDA.

The Chinese have obtained the permit to support the sea cumber society of Jaffna and the permit has to be extended. The Chinese have asked for a larger area for the hatchery and the nursing of sea cucumber, but it seems that the Chinese have not obtained a license for that purpose.

However, the people in the Northern Province have realised the value of the sea creature and feel the Government should have ‘trained’ them in large numbers long before these controversies were highlighted.

There has been open daylight robbery in the case of the seafood farm, says MP Sritharan and he charged that top politicians are also complicit with this venture.

Speaking to the Northern Media, he added that in the Kilinochchi District of Jaffna, under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Fisheries, projects to provide seafood farms to Chinese nationals are ongoing.

Gui Lan has set up a seafood farm, in the Kalmunai area of Gawdarimunai, which borders Kilinochchi. Permission for this has not been obtained from the Divisional Secretary or the Fisheries Department, he alleged.

The fact that citizens of another country are forcibly setting up farms within the boundaries of the Fishermen’s Co-operative Society, without the permission of that association and occupying those lands, has long affected and will continue to affect fishermen, he lamented.

“It is true that our people need new technologies and equipment in this regard. It must be provided by someone, but not someone who plunders the resources in the areas where these resources are located. Minister Devananda told the locals that anyone can set up a farm and no one can stop it. Sritharan said that such statement raises concerns from the people.

“In the interest of the fishermen of our area, we could have done that programme by training the people and providing them with the equipment so that they could run such sea cucumber farms, but when we went directly to the Gowdarimunai, arrangements were being made to transfer juvenile sea cucumber to Ariyalai from Gowdarimunai.

He also alleged that the Divisional Secretary is not aware of this.

Also, NAQDA recently announced that it is widening its services to the coastal people in Northern Province, by opening a new hatchery at Oleithuduwai in Mannar, which is expected to produce one million juveniles per annum. Production will gradually be intensified with the experience gained by the technical staff.

Sea Cucumber Hatchery, Oleithuduwai was ceremonially opened by Minister Devananda, in March 2021.

It is in the interest of generating revenue for the country that many of the Cabinet Ministers are engaged in promoting business, however, if such a luxury sea food business can be completely run by the locals, the revenue can be doubled.

It is still unclear how much a kg of Sri Lankan cucumber fetches in China. If it’s a good price, well then the deal is good. (