Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 7, 2020


Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,

Black Teatfish Sea Cucumbers Move Toward Endangered Species Protection

Sea Cucumbers Face Extinction From Overfishing, Wildlife Trade

WASHINGTON— The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service found today that the imperiled black teatfish sea cucumber may warrant Endangered Species Act protection and potentially a trade ban. Overfishing and the wildlife trade have caused rapid population declines for these plump, spotted, shallow-water sea cucumbers.

The government’s decision responds to a May 2020 petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. Scientists report that black teatfish have declined by 60% to 70% across 80% of their range. Black teatfish live among tropical reefs and seagrass in the Indian Ocean, along the coasts of Africa and India and the islands in between.

“Black teatfish sea cucumbers are extremely popular in the luxury food trade,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. “This popularity is killing them, sinking their populations and bringing them closer to extinction. We need to stop their trade to save them, and today’s finding is an important step in that direction."

Black teatfish are in high demand in Asia, sold as the expensive dried and then-reconstituted delicacy bêche-de-mer or trepang. The United States also imports thousands of sea cucumbers a year: The volume of sea cucumber imports by weight has increased by 36 times over a single decade. International trade is the greatest threat to the animals, and soaring demand has caused populations and fisheries to crash in recent years.

Black teatfish sea cucumbers are important ecosystem engineers, recycling nutrients and improving water quality.

Nations around the world last year approved global trade restrictions for these and two other sea cucumbers under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). While important, those protections allow for continued harvest and trade of teatfish, subject to permitting and monitoring requirements.

Listing the black teatfish as endangered under U.S. law would strengthen those protections by strictly banning all imports and sale within the United States, necessary to ensure the country doesn’t contribute to the sea cucumbers’ further endangerment.

Teatfish are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are large, sedentary and occur in shallow waters, making them easy to capture. Teatfish also mature late and require high densities to reproduce, which adds to their susceptibility to population declines.

Following today’s decision the government will open comments on teatfish protection. The Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to propose protections by May 2021.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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