Endangered item being sold in food market in New York

Posted: 17 June 2024 | | No comments yet

According to researchers from Cornell University, endangered sea cucumbers are being sold in food markets in New York City Chinatown districts.


A recent study has unearthed “genetic evidence” That some endangered species of sea cucumbers are being sold to consumers in three New York City Chinatown districts.

With findings published in the journal Sustainability, researchers from Cornell University surveyed food market retailers in the tree Chinatown districts and found that the item being sold is considered a “pricey but nutritious dried delicacy”.

To carry out the study, the researchers collected 103 samples of dried sea cucumbers from retail food shops. Through using mitochondrial DNA testing, they identified 74 examples of sea cucumbers.

Eight of the items were classified as brown sea cucumbers– which are threatened and found on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List because of overharvesting.

Lead Author of the study Jesse Rodenbiker, a former Postdoctoral Researcher at Cornell, and now an Assistant Teaching Professor in Geography at Rutgers University, explained: “We were able to genetically identify that the endangered species of brown sea cucumbers – around 10 percent of the sampled retail market – was being sold.

 “It suggests that the kind of level at which sea cucumbers are available on the market may pose a threat for biodiversity loss.”

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As part of the investigation, Rodenbiker purchased dried sea cucumbers, usually labelled by originating geographic region – Japan, Mexico and South America from merchants in Chinese neighbourhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Student researchers also interviewed retailers, with some expressing a “limited understanding of where the sea cucumbers originated”.

“During the survey period, the price for sea cucumber was between $169 and $229 per pound,” highlighted the research team.

Also commenting on the report, Nina Overgaard Therkildsen, Co-Author of the study, noted that even brown sea cucumbers can be harvested legally in certain parts of the world, however there are no genetic tools yet to trace species origination and see if they are from those legal areas.

“To conduct any enforcement at merchant food shops, we need tools that can assign a specimen back to a region from where they are protected and we are currently working on developing such tools,” Therkildsen said.

Going forward, Rodenbiker suggested there is a need for “more robust point-of-origination training for the retailers, improved labeling in the markets and public outreach to advance the concept of One Health”, an idea that humans, animals and the environment are all connected – in urban seafood markets.

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