Fisheries Minister says his letter was misinterpreted

Minister for Fisheries Sangstar  Saulala said today he had been misinterpreted after he was criticised for writing to a restaurant owner telling him to buy sea cucumbers from local fishermen.

Saulala said he wrote three letters in November in response to restaurant owners who asked him to clarify the Fisheries Act’s prohibition on harvesting of sea cucumbers.

However, the Minister’s  letter ended up at the front page of the local newspaper Kele’a  under the headline ( in Tongan)  ‘Fisheries Minister letter secretly permits buying sea cucumbers'.

Saulala denied his letter was confidential or that he had authorised restaurant owners to buy sea cucumber secretly.

He said locals were allowed to fish and sell three types of sea cucumbers: Sea slugs, snake fish  (also known as trepang) and the brown spotted sandfish.

A prohibition is in place until April on harvesting and processing of sea cucumbers for commercial and export purposes.

The Minister told Kaniva News that the Fisheries Management Act prohibited the exportation of certain types of sea cucumbers, including white teat fish.


He said the law was made to protect the sea cucumber from being fished to the point of extinction and not to quash the right of local people to fish and consume sea cucumbers.

He said he had spoken by telephone with other restaurant owners who had asked him for an interpretation of the Act as it related to sea cucumbers.

In a letter to Chinese-Tongan businessman Zhou De written on November 25 last year, Saulala said De was allowed “to buy sea cucumbers from the fishermen for consumption only and for your restaurant but not for export purpose which is closed down now.”

The Minister also said in his letter that “ women and fishermen are allowed”  to harvest the sea cucumbers.

Saulala said he discouraged De from encouraging the public to harvest the sea cucumbers.

In his letter the Minister said:  “It is important for you to refrain from sending notices through the media which will encourage more people to get involved in harvesting.”

“In the meantime you can buy from the fish market areas or fishermen can come to the restaurant where you can buy from them what you need to use for your restaurant.”

Kaniva News comment

A lot of confusion could have been avoided if the Minister’s letter had been clearer.

The Minister’s letter said De was allowed to buy sea cucumbers, but did not say he could only buy sea slugs, snake fish and the brown spotted sandfish.

Nor did the letter mention the types of sea cucumbers that are not allowed to be harvested.

The main points

  • A letter from Minister for Fisheries Sangstar  Saulala to a Tongan-Chinese businessman about harvesting sea cucumbers has caused a commotion in the local press.
  • Kele’a newspaper accused the minister of authorising restaurant owners to buy sea cucumbers secretly.
  • However, Saulala has denied the accusation, saying he told restaurant owners they could buy sea cucumbers only for local use and not for export.
  • He said local people were still allowed to harvest three types of sea cucumber for local sale and consumption.

For more information

The Fisheries Management Act 2002

The status of Tonga’s sea cucumber fishery

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