Female spawning sea cucumber. (Photo: Charlotte Regula-Whitefield)
Alaska hatchery induces reproduction of red sea cucumbers
Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 02:50 (GMT + 9)
Male red sea cucumbers have been spawning at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Alaska. The cucumbers’ behaviour is being induced by water, light and temperature changes done by Charlotte Regula-Whitefield and hatchery director Jeff Hetrick.
“It’s a gradual process — usually a male will spawn first, then you know you’ve kind of got them ready and then another male will go,” Hetrick said.
The females finally adapted to the conditions last month and a breakthrough was reached with the release of egg and sperm.
“It was exciting,” Regula-Whitefield said, Peninsula Clarion reports. “I was kind of surprised — I wasn’t expecting to get it to work so quickly.”
The spawn produced 10,000 juveniles. Hetrick thinks the second spawn will yield more than 100,000.
Still, it would take several years for the hatchery to produce a sustainable supply, KSTK reports.
“There hasn’t been any motivation for the production of sea cucumbers,” Hetrick said. “There has been some attempts in labs that has been done by researchers for different things but nothing to the scale that would be applicable to what we are doing.”
The only one of its kind in Alaska, the hatchery conducts research on new species as well as regular work with geoducks, razor clams, red and blue crabs and other species.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA) has been supporting the venture.
“They are looking at the possibility of enhancing some of the populations because, like all things, they are concerned about the diminishing resource,” he said.
Phil Doherty, executive director of SARDFA, said the association is hopeful about long-term enhancement ideas for the multi-million dollar fishery.
“We are interested in sea cucumber enhancement and we think it can work,” Hetrick said.
Regula-Whitefield said she can now achieve fertilization of more than 90 per cent of red sea cucumber eggs without killing the adults, which is the usual course of action. She has segregated groups of larvae to study the effects of different types of feed; it may take four to six years for sea cucumbers to mature.
“We’ll be able to learn things like how fast they grow, what kind of manufactured or artificial diets that may or may not work and just see if we can make juvenile sea cucumbers,” Hetrick said.
By Natalia Real