- Better Choice
NSW, VIC, SA, TAS
- Sea urchin fisheries around south-eastern Australia target long-spined, purple and red sea urchins.
- All species are native to Australia, but in some areas numbers have dramatically increased due to warming waters as a result of climate change and overfishing of urchin predators. As a result, urchins are becoming pests in parts of NSW, VIC and TAS.
- High urchin numbers lead to destruction of kelp forests which urchins graze on. Kelp forests are vital ecosystems for many other marine species.
- Sea urchin fisheries are unique in that they operate, at least in part, with overfishing as a goal in an effort to restore damaged ecosystems caused by urchin overabundance.
- Sea urchins are collected by hand, ensuring that other marine animals are not harmed.
Supporting sea urchin fisheries can actually help reduce the impact of climate change on our cool-water marine environment.
Sea Urchin, often sold as ‘Uni’ (its Japanese name), is a delicacy much prized by those in the know. The small ‘roe’ or ‘tongues’ (neither are truly accurate descriptions) are soft, rich, sweet and briny. They are often eaten raw, served on a cracker or toast as a canapé, or draped over warm rice for a larger meal. They can also be tossed through a simple pasta with little more than olive oil, lemon and parsley. The rich, briny, oceanic sauce that results is a real treat.
NSW Sea Urchin and Turban Shell Fishery (99t in 2017)
SA Dive section of the Miscellaneous Fishery (tonnage not disclosed)
VIC Sea Urchin Fishery (88t in 2017/18)
TAS Commercial Dive Fishery (266t in 2017/18)
Commercial sea urchin fisheries operate around the southeast of Australia, collecting three species: the long-spined, purple and red sea urchin. All these species live on the seafloor, feeding on algae in shallow reef habitats.
While all species occur naturally in Australia, the long-spined sea urchin is considered a pest in Tasmania, as warming waters due to climate change have allowed it to establish populations where it previously could not. Numbers have dramatically increased by 75% in 15 years. Due to previous overfishing of urchin predators, such as snapper and southern rock lobster, long-spined sea urchin don’t have enough predators to keep their numbers in check, and the species is responsible for overgrazing of kelp forests, leading to ‘urchin barrens’ – empty habitats devoid of plant life. Tasmania’s southern kelp forests have been declared as an endangered ecological community due to the voracious grazing from sea urchins.
Long-spined and purple sea urchins are considered a pest in some areas in VIC and NSW where they have become overabundant as a result of climate change and a reduction in predators. Urchins have damaged seagrass and kelp forest habitats, both important ecosystems for many other marine species.
In Tasmania, the sea urchin fishery actively targets long-spined urchins, aiming to overfish the pest species for the health of the marine ecosystem. In areas where they are considered a pest in other states, urchin culling programs are in place to restore kelp forest habitats. Some species are actively collected in VIC and NSW for the same reasons. Sea urchin fisheries are highly unusual in that they operate, at least in part, with overfishing as a goal in an effort to restore damaged ecosystems caused by urchin overabundance.
Sea urchins are hand collected by divers, usually taken while also diving for other species such as abalone and turban shells. The level of take of urchins is fairly poorly controlled, which means there are few ways to cap fishing. With current low levels of fishing activity in NSW, SA and VIC, this is not a concern but would need to be reviewed if catch levels increased.
Hand collecting is effective at only targeting the desired species, resulting in a negligible impact of extraction on any other marine species.