Life in the Matrix: Growing sea cucumber out of the sea

Authors: Young Rae Choi*, Florida International University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Marine and Coastal Resources
Keywords: nature, aquaculture, green growth, developmentalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Global seafood production is experiencing a turn from wild-caught fisheries to technology-savvy aquaculture. This turn is species-specific, i.e., not all marine life are subject to and can endure a spatially-bounded and artificially-fed mode of growing, and as such is incomplete. Nevertheless, it already began to be celebrated as a triumphant technological advance, preventing the extinction of over-fished populations in the wild and serving as an environmentally-friendly source of protein for the growing human populations. This paper interrogates this turn, with a particular case of sea cucumber farming in South Korea. The idea of large-scale commercial sea cucumber aquaculture popularized during the Green Growth period (2008-2013) when the South Korean government initiated a nationwide search for ‘new growth engines’ to boost national economy. It was not driven by a technological breakthrough. Rather, the government’s will accompanied with financial and institutional support enacted an entrepreneurial race for full-fledged sea cucumber aquaculture. As of 2017, technology enables the slow-moving, eyeless creatures to be born in indoor hatcheries and grown in seawater-filled tanks and pools. Experiments aim to manipulate their forms, colors, and smell to make sea cucumbers acquire desirable qualities as a high-priced commodity in the market. Yet, the many unknowns of sea cucumber ecology simultaneously carry various risks. The turn implies the production of new natures as well as unconventional but significant environmental impacts. As an illustrative example, this study calls for a careful and critical attention to the new changes taking place in global seafood geography.

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