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The man with a plan

PSI researcher, Andy Suhrbier helps shellfish growers adapt to changing ocean conditions.

Sea Cucumbers

PSI and partners develop polyculture methods for a species new to U.S. seafood industry.

The native giant red sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) ranges from southern California to the Gulf of Alaska. It feeds on decaying organic matter, bacteria and benthic diatoms that occur in or on the seabed. The wild fishery for P. californicus is declining in Alaska and Washington, with a first ever closer in Puget Sound in 2014 and the initiation of a license buy-back program in 1999 to reduce harvest. This species of sea cucumber is in high demand in China due to its similar characteristics to the native Chinese species, presenting an opportunity to culture the species in the U.S. for export and reduce harvest pressure on wild populations.


An early larval stage (auricularia) of our giant red sea cucumbers developing at the hatchery in Manchester, WA. Photo: PSRF.

This research will develop methods to co-culture P. californicus underneath currently farmed species (e.g. salmonids, sable fish, mussels) in Alaska (Ketchikan) and Washington (Totten Inlet and Rich Passage), utilizing the sea cucumbers as nutrient recyclers, feeding on the waste products from the co-cultured organisms growing above them. The team leaders for this research include: Dan Cheney (PI) Pacific Shellfish Institute, Brent Vadopalas and Lorenz Hauser from the University of Washington, Jeff Hetrick from Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, AK, Ryan Crim from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, and Henry Carson from WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. This work is supported by the NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy program (grant no. #2004246).

Bucket of Cucumbers

Bucket of P. californicus collected in Santa Barbara, CA for genetic analysis.

Research will begin with the collection of wild P. californicus specimens living subtidally and among shellfish aquaculture gear in Washington, Alaska and California for population genetic analysis and for grow-out experiments in the first year. Genetic analyses will be used to determine whether spatially distinct populations of P. californicus exist prior to out-planting activities. Additional specimens will be collected as broodstock from Puget Sound and transferred to the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration (KKCCSRR) in Port Orchard, WA for the development of culture techniques by staff at the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, AK. Once sea cucumbers from wild populations or hatchery reared stocks are out-planted to co-culture farm sites in WA and AK, initial growth, target densities and mortality of P. californicus will be estimated, in addition to sedimentation and water quality characteristics of each site.


The non-feeding pelagic larval stage (doliolaria) just before metamorphosis into a benthic juvenile. Photo: PSRF.

The main goal of this research is to develop and describe all of the methods involved in successfully growing P. californicus in co-culture under existing farms at commercial scale. PSI and the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA) will help advance the permitting process for these activities at the federal, state and local level in Washington and Alaska. Project results will be reported to interested growers, scientists, and regulators at the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association/National Shellfisheries Association Pacific Coast Section conferences. The final report and recommendations produced by this project will be published by the Pacific Shellfish Institute and made available through the Pacific Shellfish Institute website.

Manchester Hatchery

Hatchery at the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration NOAA facility in Manchester, WA where Puget Sound Restoration Fund staff are developing sea cucumber rearing methods. Adult cucumbers are held in the three holding tanks seen in the background and transfered into the hatchery for spawning. Photo: PSRF.

Project Partners:

Project Summary (printable 1-pg PDF)

Genetic Samples

Sea cucumber collected in Santa Barbara, CA ready for tissue sampling to be used for genetic analysis.

Diving for Cucumbers!


Vassili, our professional sea cucumber diver, about to take the plunge in Manchester, WA in search of more broodstock for our hatchery.

Scale Worm

A commensal scale worm found residing on an adult Parastichopus californicus, serving as its host.


Thank you to the sea cucumber harvester in Santa Barbara, CA for allowing us aboard to acquire samples for genetic analysis!