Illustration of Urchin

Urchin

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Green sea urchin, red sea urchin, uni

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, Strongylocentrotus franciscanus

Method

Wild

Diver, Hand harvest

Location

BC, Atlantic Canada

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Sea Urchins are fished in coastal North America primarily for their eggs or sperm, called ‘roe.’ Japan exports more than 80% of the world’s sea urchin roe. In the Pacific Ocean, sea urchins can be found from California to Alaska in the intertidal and subtidal zones. BC’s sea urchin fishery is concentrated primarily in Queen Charlotte Strait and the Gulf Islands. Red sea urchins are long-living, up to 100 years old. This species reaches sexual maturity after 5 years, and harvestable size (3.5 inches) after six to eight years. Populations are known to fluctuate with oceanographic processes such as El Nino events. Green sea urchins have highly variable growth rates depending on the availability of their primary food source, kelp. This species is shorter lived, at around 25 years. Both species have a high reproductive potential as they release several million eggs in a single spawning event. Both red and green sea urchins are relatively resilient to fishing pressures. The red and green urchin fisheries in BC are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with a precautionary approach that has been successful in maintaining stock numbers. Quotas, limited entries, area closures, and minimum harvest sizes have been established, and change annually with sea urchin abundance and sea otter population numbers. DFO is working towards establishing an ecosystem-based management regime. The management plan is known to be well-enforced and can be deemed as highly effective. Dive-fisheries have high selectivity; bycatch of other species is very low in this fishery. Sea urchins are an important species in the kelp forest ecosystem. Their removal reduces herbivore pressure on kelps, causing a phase shift and allowing the establishment of kelp-dominated ecosystems.

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Variety

Red urchin

Strongylocentrotus franciscanus

Method

Wild

Diver, Hand harvest

Location

California

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Sea Urchins are fished in coastal North America, primarily for their eggs or sperm, called ‘roe.’ Japan exports more than 80% of the world’s sea urchin roe. In the Pacific Ocean, sea urchins can be found from California to Alaska in the intertidal and subtidal zones. Sea urchins are currently fished in northern and southern California, but not in central California due to sea otter predation. Following an extensive expansion in the fishery in 1985, major population declines were observed. Currently, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) has declared that the fishery is being fully exploited and certain areas may be overfished. Red sea urchins tend are very long-living, up to 100 years old. This species reaches sexual maturity after 5 years, and harvestable size (3.5 inches) after six to eight years. Populations are known to fluctuate with oceanographic processes such as El Niño events. Red sea urchins have a high reproductive potential as they release several million eggs in a single spawning event, making them relatively resilient to fishing pressures. However, overfishing in California has caused significant population declines and stock status to be of high concern. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) currently manages the sea urchin fishery, though no formal management system exists. California currently does not use quotas or other enforcement measures. The management system allowed substantial stock declines and has not been effective in the stock’s recovery. Dive-fisheries have high selectivity; bycatch of other species is very low in this fishery. Sea urchins are an important species in the kelp forest ecosystem. Their removal reduces herbivore pressure on kelps, causing a phase shift and allowing the establishment of kelp-dominated stable systems.

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Variety

Green sea urchin, uni

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis

Method

Wild

Various

Location

Maine

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Sea Urchins are fished in coastal North America primarily for their eggs or sperm, called ‘roe.’ Japan exports more than 80% of the world’s sea urchin roe. On the Atlantic coast of North America, green sea urchins can be found from New Jersey to the Arctic. A massive expansion occurred in the Maine fishery in 1986, and has resulted in major population and biomass declines in the state. Green sea urchins have highly variable growth rates depending on the availability of their primary food source, being kelp. This species tends to be shorter lived at around 25 years. Green sea urchins have a high reproductive potential as they release several million eggs in a single spawning event, making them relatively resilient to fishing pressures. Despite their resilience, overfishing has resulted in significant population declines. Since 1992, sea urchins have been managed by the state of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Current management includes short fishing seasons, closed entry, the creation of different fishing zones (in relation to variations in spawning times), and size and gear restrictions. Currently, there is no set limit on the total allowable catch (TAC) for the fishery. The management regime allowed a population crash and has still not aided in the recovery of green sea urchins. As dive-fisheries have high selectivity, bycatch of other species is very low for this fishery. 27% of urchins are caught by draggers, which have higher levels of bycatch of sea cucumbers, mollusks and crustaceans. Most of these animals are able to be returned to the sea alive. Draggers can have large impacts by disturbing the benthic community. As sea urchins are important herbivores in kelp forests, their removal often results in a phase shift. It has been found that kelp forests in Maine have been reestablished due to the removal of herbivore pressure, and are currently at a kelp-dominated stable state.

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  • Various