Sea cucumber investigations continue
Police are yet to lay any charges against a Chinese man allegedly behind an illegal sea cucumber harvesting operation at his Vaitele residence, the Acting Police Commissioner, Papali'i Monalisa Tiai-Keti has said.
Police investigations are ongoing.
On Saturday, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.), La'auli Leuatea Schmidt, and the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.), Olo Fiti Vaai, were able to gain entry to the previously locked down premises in Vaitele on Poumuli Street.
The M.P.s were alerted by neighbours who complained about the smell being emitted during the marine creatures’ preparation for sale.
(The organisms are cooked to dry them out before being dried in the sun in order to relieve them of their water weight.)
After the operation was discovered, the M.P.s alerted the Samoa Police Services, following reports from residents of an alleged ongoing and illegal Sea Cucumber harvesting operation. The sea animal is prized as a delicacy in countries such as China where it can command up to USD$1,000 a kilo on the open market, according to the Chinese outlet The China Daily. The food is commonly known in Samoan as fugafuga.
"I was informed by people residing around the Poumuli Street at Vaitele of the issue," La'auli told the Samoa Observer.
"People have complained about the smell that comes from the compound and that's how the issue was brought to our attention."
La'auli was accompanied by officials from his Ministry along with Olo where they documented their findings at the compound where they alleged the profits of the illegal harvest were stacked in both fresh and dried forms.
"We tried [to gain entry] last month when we first got reports from residents but could not enter the premises as the gate was always locked,” the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries said.
"We believe that a Chinese man owns the compound and is the one in charge."
La’auli initially estimated that a total of two tonnes worth of the marine species were being processed - an amount that could have commanded up to USD$3 million on the open market.
But Police investigations have suggested that the amount of fresh and dried processed sea cucumbers amounted to a fraction of the Minister’s initial estimate. Some 150 kilograms of sea cucumbers (still carrying their water weight) were seized; while 30 kilograms of the invertebrates in the process of being processed were also taken in.
"Dried Sea Cucumber - or beche-de-mer as commonly known [on] the export market - currently retails at an estimated price of USD $20 - $100 per kilogram depending on the species," the M.A.F. statement claimed.
"An estimated value of these seized fishery products is to be around USD $5,000. In addition, live sea cucumber were found at the operation and were immediately seized and released into a nearby sea area as they stand a good chance of survival.
"It is an offence to operate an establishment for the process, trade and market of any fish without the required licence under the Fisheries Management Act 2016.
"The investigation of this alleged illegal operation of sea cucumber has commenced. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Samoa Police Services continues to carry out joint operations in ensuring our fisheries resources are conserved and maintained. "
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