According to an article published by Daily Mirror, in 2020 alone, Sri Lanka has exported about 326 tons of sea urchins with China being the biggest buyer.[i] Going back as far as 2016, a sea leech hatchery was established by a Chinese joint venture company ‘Gui Lan (Pvt) Ltd’ centered on the northern peninsula to facilitate the export of these species to China. The company has been registered as a private limited liability company with a registered address in Negombo with two Chinese and a Sri Lankan being named as directors in April 2016. Welcoming Chinese investment in the country, in June 2022, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved a proposal for a large-scale commercial sea leech and sea cucumber farming project spanning 5,000 acres in the districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Batticaloa in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  The government also plans to set up an export village in an area of 100 acres.

As per online resources, the approximate price range for Sri Lankan Sea Cucumber is between US$ 30.39 and US$ 54.69 per kilogram or between US$ 13.78 and US$ 24.81 per pound (lb) in 2022. In 2017, a kilo of sea cucumber was priced at US$21.64 and in 2019 the price went up to $30.39 per kilo.[ii] According to a January 2020 Hindustan Times report, a kilo of sea cucumbers can fetch about Rs 50,000 and some fishermen could even earn Rs. 2 lakh in a single day. [iii] This highly priced delicacy is helping Sri Lanka bring in the much needed foreign currency to combat the ongoing economic crisis in the country.

While the Sri Lankan government is busy counting the money, the local fishermen communities have been suffering. It has come to light that the Gui Lan joint venture has failed to secure a permit from National Aquaculture Development Authority of Sri Lanka (NAQDA) for its new nursery in Kowtharimunai in Pooneryin. This new nursery is located only a few kilometers away from its Ariyalai hatchery in Jaffna. According to the chief of Pasaiyoor Fishermen Federation P. Mathan, the establishment of this new nursery has led to acres of sea lands being fenced off for sea cucumber harvesting, shutting out the traditional fishermen who harvest prawns for a living. While the company continued its operations at Ariyalai, the Fisheries department in 2017 filed a legal action against it for failing to produce a permit from NAQDA. The case was then transferred to Jaffna Magistrate’s court where it was ordered to release the baby sea cucumbers to the nearby waterways. Pooneryin Divisional secretary S.C. Krishnendran said he came to know about the company’s Kowtharimunai extension only through media reports and that no such permit applications were submitted to the local fishermen body seeking its consent.