Fishing for Foie Gras | A Story of the Sea Urchin

Our passion can be our profession or our passion can be an enjoyable past time. Fishing is one of those activities that comes to mind when I think of an activity that people do either to have a relaxing afternoon; or to provide for themselves and their families.

Recreational fishing–fishing for pleasure–can be contrasted with commercial fishing; which is fishing for economic profit. For some communities, fishing provides not only a source of food and work but also community and cultural identity. Four-fifths of the world’s fishers are said to reside in Asia.

The term fishing broadly includes catching aquatic animals other than fish. This includes such as crustaceans such as: shrimp, lobsters, crabs and other shellfish; octopus and squid; as well as echinoderms such as: starfish and sea urchins.

Some of these catches of the day are part of our daily diet, while others are delicacies to be enjoyed only sparingly.

The Sea Urchin

What do the starfish and the sea urchin have in common? They are both echinoderms. The adults of the species are usually recognisable by their five-point radial symmetry. This means that the creatures have appendages which point outward from the centre of the body like the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

Most echinoderms are able to reproduce asexually as well as regenerate tissue, organs and limbs. Almost all species have separate male and female sexes, though some are hermaphroditic.

Urchins are well known for their spines, which they use as a defence strategy to deter predators. Some species are even venomous and the most toxic urchin appears to be deceptively unassuming.

In many parts of the world, sea urchins are harvested for their roe. In Japan and the United States, they have even earned the accolade of being the “foie gras of the sea.”

Known in Japan as uni, the Japanese consume about 80 percent of the global urchin harvest. The roe is served raw. But the Japanese are not alone in their consumption of roe. In Italy, it is served either with lemon or in pasta sauces. Some Native Americans, the Māori as well as Australian First Nations also include urchin roe in their diet.

Divers tend to use hand tools to scrape the urchins into catch bags that are either carried to the surface or are raised using air lift bags. Since the urchins are handpicked, they can be size selected and there is no bycatch, unlike with other fishing methods.

The selection of mature size sea urchins by divers means that undersized specimen can be returned without significant mortality, adding to the sustainability of this method of catching sea urchins.


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