Helping the Kelp Forests - One Aquaculture Urchin at a Time

Across the worlds oceans, sea urchins are on the march and thats not a good thing. Reports on how a new system of population management can stem a damaging swell in numbers while meeting a growing demand for their... you-know-whats

From the outside, urchins look anything but tasty. Crack open that spikey exterior, though, and you will find a delicacy highly coveted by sushi lovers and some experimental chefs: uni – the urchin’s gonads. As demand for uni continues to increase, urchin fisheries have declined due to overfishing. It is somewhat ironic, then, that in some places such as Australia, Norway and California, the combination overfishing of urchin predators and warming waters has given rise to armies of these slow-moving omnivores, which are eating their way through kelp forests, reducing them to ‘urchin barrens’.

Loss of kelp forests means loss of essential habitat for myriad other species, including some of commercial importance. Unfortunately, we can’t simply fish the urchins where they are being most problematic and sell them. Urchins on barrens have eaten themselves out of house and home – and hungry urchins do not make good uni. And this, Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda believes, is the perfect opportunity for conservation and aquaculture to work together.

Pioneered by Takeda, Urchinomics is essentially a form of ‘ranching’, with a conservation twist. Urchins are removed from those places where they are being most destructive and popped into trays suspended from existing oyster or mussel lines. There they – or rather their gonads – are ‘fattened up’ until they are perfect for sale.

This article was written for (and can be read in full at) The Fish Site.