Greek sea cucumbers may soon be on the menus of restaurants around the world. Although they are delicacies in some cultures, many people have no idea that the sea creatures are even edible.
Fishermen on the Dodecanese islands in Greece have been fishing for the sea cucumbers, which were only used for bait until recently, due to increased interest in purchasing the creatures for consumption, particularly from buyers from China, where the marine animal is considered a luxury seafood.
They are considered extremely valuable, and can be sold for hundreds, even thousands of dollars per kilo.
Sea cucumbers are nutritious, part of Chinese cuisine
The Southern Aegean regional authority of Greece has issued licenses for the harvesting of the species by certain fishing boats, originating from ports mostly on the islands of Kalymnos and Leros, where sea cucumbers are more common.
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea, according to scientific classification. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad.
Sea cucumbers are found on the seafloor worldwide, and are in abundance in the seas surrounding Greece as well.
Their nutritional value is very high, while innovative dishes of high export value have begun to be produced using them as their main ingredient. They have long been a popular dish in Chinese and other Asian nations.
They are considered the “cleaners” of marine ecosystems, feeding on the detritus produced by other marine organisms, which is why they live along sandy sea bottoms.
Anyone who has ever set eyes on one of these animals must admit they leave much to be desired in the “looks” category. However, they have high nutritional and pharmaceutical value and many people consider them a great delicacy, despite their appearance.
Apart from their food value, the Chinese also claim that these sea creatures serve as an aphrodisiac. Scientists have confirmed that some chemicals excreted by their skin can treat joint pain and may even have benefits in treating cancer.
For this reason, the enormous Chinese market has expressed great interest in buying huge quantities of this specific species.
Could be lucrative for Greek fishermen
The environmental ministry of Greece approved a study throughout the islands of the Dodecanese on the possible commercial exploitation of sea cucumbers, as this could become a lucrative industry for farmers without the risk of over-fishing, as the creatures are common in Greek seas.
A dedicated area in which the creatures can be legally harvested by fishermen will be established in the sea surrounding a number of islands where sea cucumber populations are particularly abundant.
Although the vast majority of edible sea cucumber populations are not in danger of extinction across the world, the creatures have been hunted to a threatened level near China, due to their status as a delicacy there.
The increased demand for the homely-looking sea creature from international fishermen is likely due to this over-fishing of sea cucumbers in China.