California Sea Cucumber

Apostichopus californicus

James Maughn/iNaturalist

The Science


When threatened, the sea cucumber expels its guts, which later re-grow.

California Sea Cucumber

Taxonomic description

  • Ranges in color from dark red, brown, and yellow with large, stiff papillae that is lighter in color but is usually tipped red. [3]
  • Skeleton is reduced to ossicles in the body wall. [2]
  • Is difficult to measure as it contracts, but a maximum length of 50 cm (~2 ft).  [3]
  • When relaxed, this species is the longest sea cucumber on the West Coast. [4]


  • Found from Baja California, Mexico to Alaska. [1]

Life history

  • Is a broadcast spawner, and spawning is thought to coincide with phytoplankton blooms. [2]
  • Becomes reproductively mature between 4 to 8 years old. [2]
  • Can live up to 12 years. [1]


  • Found from low intertidal to depths of 75 meters (249 feet). [4]
  • Prefers hard substrates, like rocks and shells, as well as calm water. [1,2]
  • Predators include sea stars, various fish, sea otters, and crabs. [2]
  • As a deposit feeder, it collects organic matter and microorganisms. [1]


The Fishery


Despite being little known, California's commercial fishery for the sea cucumber was established in 1978. 

Dried sea cucumbers


Seasonal availability

  • Available year round. [6]

Regulatory and managing authority

  • As established by the Marine Life Management Act, the California Fish and Game Commission regulates the fishery, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages this fishery in state waters. [5]

Gear type

  • Trawling is only allowed in Southern California. [1]
  • Diving for sea cucumber is allowed in Northern California and Southern California. [1]
  • Diving is more common than trawling, and usually occurs in conjunction with other dive fisheries, such as the sea urchin. [1]
  • Special permits are required to fish for sea cucumber. [5]

Status of the fishery

  • Very little is known about the population size, but is thought to be stable. [1,2]
  • High natural mortality and slow growth makes this species susceptible to overfishing. [2]
  • It is unknown if current fishing rate is sustainable. [2]
  • Listed as least concern by IUCN due to its abundance across its entire range. [1]
  • The population declined in the 1980s due to lack of regulation, but restrictions allowed for recovery. [1]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Use of non-selective gear like trawls can damage habitat and result in bycatch, which is mediated in California by restricting trawling in sensitive habitats. [6]
  • Channel Islands and Santa Barbara Islands have found a declining sea cucumber population in fished areas. [6]

The Seafood


The highest demand for the sea cucumber comes from the Asian market, where it is considered a delicacy.

Fried sea cucumber
Kent Wang/Flickr



Edible portions

  • Sea cucumber an be eaten whole, or just the skin or gonads. [2]

Description of meat

  • It has little to no taste, but soaks up the flavors it's cooked in. [7]
  • The texture is gelatinous. [7]

Culinary uses

  • Often boiled, dried, and salted before being exported, as well as frozen or pickled. [2]
  • Sold fresh in California. [2]
  • Typically, sea cucumber is used in Chinese soups or stews. [2]
  • For a recipe for braised sea cucumbers with mushrooms, visit Pacific Sea Cucumbers Harvesters' Association. [10]

Nutritional information 

  • Rich in healthy levels of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 as well as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. [8]
  • Anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertension, antioxidant. [8]
  • Low levels of fat but high levels of protein. [8]
  • Nutrition Facts for 100g of sea cucumber are found on the table. [9]

Toxicity report

  • No known toxins. [8]

Seasonal availability

  • Year round. [6]


[1] Mercier, A., Hamel, J., Toral-Granda, T., Alvarado, J., Paola Ortiz, E., Benavides, M. 2013. Parastichopus californicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013. Web. Accessed 2 May 2017.

[2] Bennet-Rogers, L., Ono, D. 2006. Sea Cucumbers. Pages 1-10. Status of the Fisheries Report. Web. Accessed 27 August 2020.

[3] Williams, K., Helmstetler, H., Cowles, D. n.d. Parastichopus californicus. Web.…. Accessed 27 August 2020.

[4] National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. California Sea Cucumber, Parastichopis californicus. Web. Accessed 2 May 2017.

[5] California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2019. Giant Sea Cucumber, Apostichopus californicus, Enhanced Status Report. Web. Accessed 27 August 2020.

[6] Bruckner, A. 2005. The recent status of sea cucumber fisheries in the continental United States of America. Web.…. Accessed 2 May 2017.

[7] Braised Sea Cucumbers with Chinese Vegetables. Web.…. Accessed 27 May 2017.

[8] Bordbar, S., Anwar, F., Saari, N. 2011. High-Value Components and Bioactives from Sea Cucumbers for Functional Foods- A Review. Web. Accessed 27 May 2017. 

[9] Sea Cucumber. n.d. Web.…. Accessed 21 September 2017. 

[10] Ligia. Pacific Sea Cucumber Harvesters' Association. 2020. Braised Sea Cucumber and Japanese Mushroom with Seasonal Vegetable. Web.…. Accessed 12 January 2021. 

[11] pfly. flickr. 2007. Digital image. Web. Accessed 12 February 2021. 

[12] Stevens, B. and Edward Munk. Alaska Fisheries Science Center. n.d. Digital image. Web. Accessed 12 February 2021. 

[13] Addie. flickr. 2009. dry sea cucumber. Digital image. Web. Accessed 12 February 2021. 

[14] Wang, K. flickr. 2006. Fried sea cucumber. Digital image. Web. Accessed 12 February 2021.