California Sea Cucumber

The Science

When threatened, sea cucumbers expel their guts, which later re-grow.

The Fishery

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


The Seafood

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

The Science

Bradley Stevens, Eric Munk, NOAA

Taxonomic description

  • Marine invertebrate in class Holothuroidea, related to other echinoderms such as sea urchins and sea stars [1]
  • Skeleton reduced to ossicles in the body wall [2]
  • Difficult to measure as it contracts, but a maximum length of 60 cm (2 feet) [2, 3]
  • Longest sea cucumber on the West Coast when relaxed [4]
  • Expels internal organs to when threatened by predators [5]


  • Distributed from Baja California, Mexico to Alaska [1]

Life history

  • Broadcast spawners, thought to coincide with phytoplankton blooms [3]
  • Reproductively mature between 4 to 8 years old [3]
  • Estimated to live up to 12 years [1]


  • Found from low intertidal to depths of 75 meters (249 feet) [4]
  • Preference for hard substrates, like rocks and shells, as well as calm water [1,2]
  • Predators include sea stars, various fish, sea otters, and crabs [2]
  • Deposit feeder that collects organic matter and microorganisms [1]
  • Population declined in 1980s, due to lack of regulation, but restrictions allowed for recovery [1,5]

The Fishery

Bare Dreamer, Flickr

Seasonal availability

  • Year Round [6]

Managing authority

  •     Fisheries managed by each state, including Department of Fish and Wildlife in California [6]
  •     Permits limited, require a minimum of landing 50 pounds in the previous year [6]
  •     Maximum diving permits: 144; Maximum trawl permits: 36 [3]

Gear type

  • Trawling only allowed in Southern California [1]
  • Diving 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]

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 could make them susceptible to overfishing [2]
  • Unknown if current fishing rate is sustainable [2]
  • Listed as least concern by IUCN due to its abundance across its entire range [1]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Use of non-selective gear, like trawls, can damage habitat and result in bycatch [6]
  • 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

Kent Wang, Flickr

Edible portions

  • Can be eaten whole, or just the skin or gonads [2]

Description of meat

  • Little to no taste [7]
  • 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]
  • Needs to be infused with broth or extracts to have flavor [7]
  • Mainly used in Chinese soups or stews [2]

Nutritional information 

  • Rich in 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 (0.3-1.9%), but high levels of protein (40.7-63.3%) [8]
  • Nutrition Facts are not specifically for the California Sea Cucumber [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.

[3] California Fisheries Fund. 2008. California Fisheries Atlas- Sea Cucumber. Web. Accessed: 2 May 2017.

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

[5] Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. California Sea Cucumber. Web. Accessed 2 May 2017.

[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,Web. Accessed: 21 September 2017.