Fishermen & Sea Urchin Aquaculture

In general, fishermen and marine farmers do not really see eye-to-eye. The use of coastal resources is limited and there is naturally some… friction between the two groups. Sea urchin aquaculture is one area where both marine farmers and fishermen have common ground.  In particular, roe enhancement of wild stocks provides shared opportunities for both groups.

Moreover, roe enhancement provides some unique opportunities for fishermen.

What is Roe Enhancement?

Sea urchin roe is a seasonal product. The roe is the gonad of the animal and it is only acceptable to the market during a seasonal window of a few months. In any particular region, this window is just before the spawning season of the sea urchins in that region.

Seasonal Variation in Gonad/Roe Content

  • Figure: Seasonal Variation in Gonad/Roe Content. Simplified representation of the amount of roe per sea urchin (Gonadal Index; roe content as a percentage of total body weight) over time. The green bar above the graph corresponds roughly to the seasonal harvesting window for the European Edible sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus. The red bar is roughly the spawning season. Figure is revised from Unuma (2002), in Yukio et al. (Eds.), The Sea Urchin: From Basic Biology to Aquaculture, pp.115-128.

Roe enhancement is similar to lobster holding – the animals are harvested from the wild, kept in a system and sold at a later date. Enhancement is more than just ‘holding’, though. It results in significantly increased roe. The sea urchins are harvested from the wild and kept in an aquaculture system for about 12 weeks. Because of the conditions in an aquaculture system, at the end of the 12 weeks the animals have significantly increased roe content. 

Sea Urchin Ogrowing vs Enhancement

Using roe enhancement, significantly more roe can be produced from the same number of animals from the wild.

Importantly, using a few aquaculture tricks, it is possible to produce excellent quality roe out-of-season. (For more information, see our other blog on out-of-season roe production – Independent Validation of the UrchinPlatter™ System ).

How Fishermen can benefit from Sea Urchin Aquaculture?

1. Another Customer.  An enhancement farm would be another customer to which fishermen can sell their will sea urchin harvest.

2. Higher Price.  Sea urchins for enhancement must be live. Really live. The sea urchins must be harvested, delivered to the enhancement farm undamaged and alive, ready to start consuming feed.  The greater care that must be taken of sea urchins destined for enhancement would be reflected in their price to the farm.

3. Another Product – Seaweed.  Until sea urchin feed becomes more generally available, enhancement farms will need a regular supply of seaweed/macroalgae. This would provide the fishermen with additional opportunities and work.

The Best Possible Scenario: Fishermen Enhancing Sea Urchins

The ideal scenario is for fishermen themselves (for example, a co-op) to enhance sea urchins.  This would provide a wealth of opportunities:

  • Total Fisheries Management. The sea urchin fisheries can be managed from both the fishermen and the enhancement/aquaculture perspectives.
  • Highest Possible Profit Margin. Assuming a profit-share model (where all the fishermen share in the profits from their enhancement farm), the operation would have the highest possible profit margin. The cost of input materials (that is, the sea urchins and seaweed) would be at cost – as it would be fishermen themselves harvesting these inputs and not buying them at market price.
  • More Jobs & Regional Development. A fishermen-led enhancement operation would provide increase jobs.
  • Training. As part of setting up the farm, fishermen can be easily provided with proper training to ensure that they themselves are working in the operation. Basic aquaculture skills such as water management, stock management, farm hygiene and biosecurity, and traceability are skills that are very transferable to other ventures.

Fishermen Engaged in Sea Urchin Enhancement?

In Europe there have been some attempts to convince fishermen to enter aquaculture. The aim of these efforts was to entice fishermen away from fishing in an attempt to reduce the national fishing fleets. The rationale for choosing aquaculture as the alternative appears to have been that both fields involve water and fish. Unsurprisingly, these efforts were not wildly successful.  Apparently, there is a big difference between going out fishing every day and salmon smolt production.

In my limited experience, the fishermen who did enter aquaculture were more interested in activities like oyster ongrowing or mussel farming – activities which resemble fishing to some extent.

Sea urchin enhancement may be more acceptable to fishermen than other types of aquaculture for several reasons:

  • Fishing-Like. The daily procedures involved in sea urchin enhancement, like harvesting sea urchins and seaweed, are almost identical to that of fishing.
  • Aquaculture-Light. Enhancement is a lot simpler on a day-to-day basis than running a sea urchin nursery or even an ongrowing operation. In enhancement, market-size animals are simply brought in and fed for 12 weeks.
  • Seasonal and Part-Time. Enhancement can be performed for a few months a year and, depending on the level of production, can provide part-time employment.
  • Fast Turn-Over. The relatively quick turn-over of enhancement (12 weeks) may be more acceptable to fishermen, who are used to selling their produce quickly, than other types of aquaculture which can take 12 months or longer for the end product to reach the market. 

These were just a few thoughts. Please comment below or contact me at SeaUrchins@GourmetMarine.ie for any comments.

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One Response to Fishermen & Sea Urchin Aquaculture

  1. S. L. says:

    Interesting article

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