This was the highest quantity to be seized by forest personnel in recent times.
In a pre-dawn operation, a team of forest personnel from Mandapam Forest Range has seized a huge haul of 3,200 kg of endangered sea cucumbers, protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, after intercepting a fishing boat off Mandapam seashore and arrested two persons.
G. Venkatesh, Forest Range Officer, who headed the team, said the team members, including Gunasekaran, Forester, was patrolling in the sea off Mandapam seashore in the early hours of Sunday when they intercepted a country fishing boat and seized the species, stuffed in plastic cement bags.
He said the boat was heading towards Vedalai when they blocked it and arrested the duo. The accused were identified as S Sahul Hameed, 31, and M Karuppaiah, 45, hailing from Vedalai. They were produced before a Magistrate court and would be remanded in judicial custody, Mr Venkatesh said.
The seized sea cucumbers, which were found dead, would be destroyed in the presence of a Judicial Magistrate, he said. The range office seized the fishing boat and registered a case. This was the highest quantity to be seized by forest personnel in recent times.
Mr. Venkatesh said the team had been patrolling in the area since last week after receiving specific intelligence inputs that there was large scale illegal fishing of sea cucumbers in the area. The accused might have set out to the sea on Saturday night and collected the sea cucumbers from fishermen, who were fishing on the high seas.
The accused had procured the species at the behest of smugglers who smuggled them to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and China after boiling and drying the species. Processed sea cucumbers commanded good price in these countries as people consumed them for the medicinal values, police added.
Officials said the species, which habitat in the seabed, played useful role in the marine ecosystem and helped to recycle nutrients. They acted as friends of fishermen like earthworms acted as friends of farmers, they said. Though the fisheries department warned fishermen against catching sea cucumbers, some greedy fishermen continued to indulge in illegal catching, they said.