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Life History

Giant Red sea cucumbers (Apostichopus californicus) inhabit the subtidal areas off the west coast of North America, ranging from Mexico to Southeast Alaska. They can live up to 12 years and reach maturity around 4-8 years old. Mature sea cucumbers migrate to shallow regions during the summer to spawn by releasing sperm and egg into the water column to be externally fertilized. A. californicus goes through multiple pelagic larval stages, feeding on plankton until they settle out on the sediment and metamorphosis into a juvenile. At this final stage, sea cucumbers are benthic and feed by sifting through sediment to eat detritus, small organisms, and algae. 

The giant red sea cucumber is an emerging aquaculture species with substantial economic and ecological value in California, Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska. It is the largest sea cucumber species on the U.S. West Coast and the predominant species commercially harvested in the region. Declining wild stocks and high commercial value make A. californicus an excellent candidate for aquaculture and enhancement.

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The Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute will be tasked to produce 1-2mm (in length) juvenile sea cucumbers to be transferred to Ketchikan for nursery experiments. Broodstock (n=100) for these sea cucumbers will be harvested in SE Alaska and transported to Seward for conditioning when the project is initiated. A total of 2,000 juvenile sea cucumbers will arrive in Ketchikan in the summer of 2022 for nursery trials. Nursery trials will be conducted at a total of 3 locations around Ketchikan: Oceans Alaska’s hatchery/nursery, the Ketchikan high school and the Metlakatla high school. PSRF and PSI staff will coordinate with each entity in the spring of 2021 to ensure each has proper water temperature controls, tanks and food sources along with written feeding protocols. Feed trials will compare off the shelf dried sargassum, shellfish waste and a combination of the two. Structure, plastic draining from local hardware stores, will be placed in each growout tank for these cryptic species. When sea cucumbers arrive in Ketchikan, PSI and PSRF staff will travel to each nursery location to provide in person training. Growth will be measured monthly by weight at the Oceans Alaska site and via length at each high school. Mortality and growth rates will be calculated via high school students with teacher and PSI staff oversight.

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