Apostichopus japonicus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Apostichopus japonicus
Species Authority: (Selenka, 1867)
Common Name(s):
English Japanese Spiky Sea Cucumber
Taxonomic Notes:

Apostichopus japonicus was formerly known as Stichopus japonicus.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2010-05-19
Assessor(s): Hamel, J.-F. & Mercier, A.
Reviewer(s): Polidoro, B., Harwell, H. & Carpenter, K.E.
Apostichopus japonicus has been exploited throughout its range. In China, wild stocks are considered to be largely extirpated, and to meet demand, this species is now being massively produced through hatcheries and sea ranching. There is no evidence that the wild stocks in China have recovered. In Japan, this species has been managed for a very long time and although there has been at least a 30% decline over the past 30 years based on landings data, current populations seem to be stable. In sum, data from the 1960s-1970s to about 2005 show landings have declined by 80% in Russia, more than 95% in China, 40% in Korea, and about 30% in Japan. It is therefore estimated that this species has declined at least 60% throughout its global range over the past 30-50 years. Generation length is not known, but as echinoderms are not considered to go through senescence, it is estimated that one generation length may be greater than several decades. This species is listed as Endangered.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Apostichopus japonicus is found in the Northwest Pacific including Japan (from Hokkaido to Kyushu), China, Korean Peninsula and Far Eastern Russia.
China; Japan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Russian Federation
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Pacific – northwest
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Catches of this species have significantly declined over the past 50 years throughout its range, and wild populations of this species are considered mostly extirpated from China (Libin Zhang pers comm 2012).

In China, wild capture fisheries have declined significantly in two provinces of Shandong and Liaoning, which historically represented the heart of their distribution. Wild catches of this species in these and surrounding areas declined from 130-140 tonnes in the 1950s to values between 26 and 40 tonnes in the 1970s (Choo 2008). Current landings of wild caught Apostichopus japonicus in China are considered non existent (Sloan 1995). The soaring price for this species has stimulated the development of aquaculture and sea ranching. It has been reported that the aquaculture production of A. japonicus in China reached 5,800 tonnes dry weight in 2002, compared to harvest levels of 470 tonnes dry weight in the same year (Chen 2004). In 2010, the aquaculture production of A. japonicus in Shandong was 66,300 tons and accounted for 50% of that in China, while the production in Liaoning was 59,764 tons and accounted for 45% of China's production (Libin Zhang pers comm 2012).

A. japonicus is the most common sea cucumber species in Japan. The catch of A. japonicus in Japan has decreased at least 30% over the past 30 years, dropping from over 10,000 tonnes (wet weight) in 1978 to 7,133 tonnes in 1987 (Bruckner et al. 2003). In Japan, between 2000-2005 the range for landings was between 7,000-9,000 tonnes per year (Choo 2008), and this trend seems to be stable. Here, it is captured by several methods such as dredge net, hook, spear and diving (Choo 2008). In the year 2000, Japan started developing hatchery techniques, and in Russia there is a hatchery for sea cucumber production, which is presumed to be of A. japonicus, that started in 2003 (Choo 2008).

In Russia, Konstantinova (2004) noted that the sea cucumber (species not identified in the article, but likely to be A. japonicus) resources in Primorsky Krai, located in the extreme south–eastern region of the Russian Federation, have decreased to 16–20% of the level of the stock that existed in the 1960s. The majority of the current stock comprises of specimens of around 40–60 g which were below the marketable size (Choo 2008).

The species is commonly exploited for food from the capture fishery in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and is reported to be severely exploited (Choo 2008). Capture production of A. japonicus from the Republic of Korea showed an average production of about 1,902 tonnes from 1990 to 1999, while the average capture production from 2000 to 2005 was 1,120 tonnes (Choo 2008), representing a decline of about 40% over 10-15 years.
In Japan and Korea, 13,371 tonnes of this species were harvested each year in the early 1980s (Bruckner et al. 2003).

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Apostichopus japonicus is found in shallow coastal bottom communities from the intertidal zone to depths of 40 m, possibly more (Choo 2008). It forms aggregations, usually in the upper sublittoral zone in the subtropics. Juveniles are often associated with algal/seagrass and oyster beds.

A. japonicus
ingests organic matter, bacteria, protozoa, diatoms as well as plant and animal detritus and re-utilizes residual food and feces. It becomes inactive when water temperature exceeds 18 °C, and will aestivate at water temperatures about 20–24.5°C. In some regions of China, aestivation can last up to four years (Choo 2008).

A. japonicus matures considerably earlier than other temperate species, at about two years (Skewes et al. 2002; Chen 2003). Larval duration for this species is 12-13 days (Chen 2003). This species typically grows to 20 cm in four years (Izumi 1991).

Generation length is largely unknown for these species. Body size is not a good indicator of age or longevity. There is some indication, however, that many echinoderms do not go through senescence, but simply regenerate. Therefore generation length cannot be estimated, but is assumed to be greater than several decades (20-40 years) in a natural, undisturbed environment.
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is commercially harvested throughout its distribution. In Japan, Apostichopus japonicus are red (“aka namako”), green (“ao namako”) or black (“kuro namako”) in colour. Specimens with different colour morphs fetch different prices and have their own unique tastes (Choo 2008).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Apostichopus japonicus is one of the most important commercial species in Asia (Choo 2008) and has the longest history of exploitation (Bruckner 2006), in the Far East Russian Federation, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Choo 2008). China is producing 10,000 tonnes (dry weight) of A. japonicus from aquaculture to supply local demand, and Japan is the highest capture fishery producer of A. japonicus (Choo 2008). 

In 2005 there was an initiative in Chile to introduce A. japonicus to start an aquaculture venture (Choo 2008).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Apostichopus japonicus has been cultured for several years. The price of this species when cultured is very high compared to wild caught high-grade species.

Except for Japan, all the countries in the Asian region generally lack conservation measures for the sea cucumber fisheries (Choo 2008). The oldest management activity in Japan, which continues to this day, has been to set aside certain localities as breeding reserves where sea cucumber fishing is strictly prohibited. Currently, the Sea-Area Fishery Adjustment Commission of Japan oversees fishery management and fisheries cooperative association work at the community level. Some of the measures include no fishing during spawning activity, maximum total annual catch, regulation of the minimum catch size, mesh size restriction, and no fishing areas (Choo 2008). There is an example of a recovery plan in Japan in Ohmura Bay where an increase of 18% in a period of one year has been noted (Mitsunaga et al. 2006). 

With the inclusion of Isostichopus fuscus in CITES Appendix III, a debate started whether the conservation of this group may be addressed with their inclusion in one of CITES appendices (Toral-Granda 2007), and no recent advances have been achieved on this matter.

Bibliography [top]

Bruckner, A.W. 2006. Proceedings of the CITES workshop on the conservation of sea cucumbers in the families Holothuriidae and Stichopodidae. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS- OPR 34, Silver Spring, MD.

Chen, J. 2003. Overview of sea cucumber farming and sea ranching practices in China. SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin #18.

Chen, J. 2004. Present status and prospects of sea cucumber industry in China. In: A. Lovatelli, C. Conand, S. Purcell, S. Uthicke, J.-F. Hamel and A. Mercier (eds), Advances in Sea Cucumber Aquaculture and Management, pp. 25-38. FAO, Rome.

Chen, L., Li, Q. and Yang, J. 2008. Microsatellite genetic variation in wild and hatchery populations of the sea cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus Selenka) from northern China. Aquaculture Research 2008: 1-9.

Choo, P.S. 2008. Population status, fisheries and trade of sea cucumbers in Asia. In: M.V. Toral-Granda, A. Lovatelli, M. Vasconcellos. (ed.), Sea cucumbers. A global review on fisheries and trade.. FAO, Rome.

Dubrovskii, S.V. and Sergeenko, V.A. 2002. Distribution pattern of far eastern sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus in Busse Lagoon (Southern Sakhalin). Russian Journal of Marine Biology 28(2): 87-93.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 12 June 2013).

Kan-no, M. and Kijima, A. 2003. Genetic differentiation among three color variants of Japanese sea cucumber Stichopus jamponicus. Fisheries Science 69: 806-812.

Kulikova, V.A. and Sergeenko, V.A. 2003. Abundance and distribution of pelagic larvae of bivalves and echinoderms in Busse Lagoon (Aniva Bay, Sakhalin Island). Russian Journal of Marine Biology 29(2): 81-89.

Lebedev, A.M. 2000. Fisheries and reserves of the far eastern sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus. Russina Journal of Marine Biology 26(4): 296-302.

Mitsunaga, N., Matsumura, Y., Watanabe, S. and Suzuki, H. 2006. Results of the year 2005 sea cucumber recovery plan. Annual Report of Nagasaki Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station. April 2005–March 2006.

Pivkin, M.V. 2000. Filamentous fungi associated with holothurians from the Sea of Japan, off the Primorye Coast of Russia. Biological Bulletin 198(1): 101-109.

Selin, N.I. 2001. Vertical distribution of the Far East trepang Apostichopus japonicus in Vostok Bay, Sea of Japan. Russian Journal of Marine Biology 27(4): 256-258.

Skewes, T., Dennis, D., Wassenberg, T.J., Austin, M., Moeseneder, C., Kutosoukos, A., Haywood, M., Pendrey, R. and Bustamante, R. 2002. Surveying the distribution and abundance of Holothuria scabra (sandfish) in Moreton Bay. CSIRO Division of Marine Research Final Report, Brisbane.

Toral-Granda, V.M. 2006. Fact sheets and identification guide for commercial Sea cucumber species.

Toral-Granda, V.M. 2007. The Biological and Trade Status of Sea Cucumbers in the families Holothuriidae and Stichopodidae. Convention on International Trade in Endangerd Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: 33. The Hague, Netherlands.

World Database of Protected Areas. 2010. Marine Protected Areas. Available at: http://www.wdpa-marine.org/. (Accessed: 1 December).

Yuan, X., Yang, H., Wang, L., Zhou, Y., Zhang, T. and Liu, Y. 2007. Effects of aestivation on the energy budget of sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus (Selenka) (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea). Acta Ecologica Sinica 27(8): 3155-3161.

Citation: Hamel, J.-F. & Mercier, A. 2013. Apostichopus japonicus. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 25 July 2014.
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