Save the Sea Kelp, Eat the Sea Urchin, Says Urchinomics CEO Brian Tsuyoshi

At this point in time, it is well-known that the seafood population is suffering from overfishing. Particularly popular types of fish, such as cod and tuna, are even illegal to fish in the Indian ocean, though this does not deter net fishers who aren’t bothered by what they catch. In fact, the only way to legally fish bluefin tuna is via line fishing. But there are certain types of seafood that should be eaten with enthusiasm. Among these are sardines, mackerel, and especially sea urchin.

Sea urchin is posing a particular problem for the environment for a number of reasons. Because they are notoriously hungry sea creatures, they very quickly go through kelp forests, sometimes to the extent that they do not have time to regenerate organically. The main issue is that because sea urchins are not mobile, they cannot relocate when their kelp forest is gone, and so even though they are alive, they end up empty. Since they are still in the way of kelp growth, their shells prevent the crucial space that kelp forests need to appear. That they are empty also prevents the sea urchins from becoming attractive to predators, and so they sit on the ocean floor, completely useless.

Save the Sea Kelp, Eat the Sea Urchin, Says Urchinomics CEO Brian Tsuyoshi

But an up-and-coming company has made it its goal to change the place of the sea urchin in the ecosystem. Urchinomics collects the empty yet living shells and takes them to a ranch where they can regrow into useful creatures within four to ten weeks. They are fed a mix of kombu sourced from places of abundance, which is essentially a blend of Japanese kelp, and are soon after harvested for human consumption. There are many advantages to purchasing ranched sea urchins, the most crucial being the consistency of the product. Harvesting urchin from the wild can lead to empty shells, inferior quality product, and irregular weight, which can lead to significant disputes among wholesalers.

Save the Sea Kelp, Eat the Sea Urchin, Says Urchinomics CEO Brian Tsuyoshi

Urchinomics is quite passionate about their missions, which not only include managing the overpopulation of sea urchins but also regrowing the kelp forest. In fact, according to Duarte, 2009, “coastal kelp forests are some of the most fertile feeding and breeding grounds for fish and invertebrates globally, but they are disappearing four times faster than rainforests*. Reducing urchin populations can help restore kelp growth—up to 18” per day!” This is in line with the fact that restoring kelp increases the mitigation of CO2 in as much as the sea plant takes up “0.05% of the plant biomass on land, however, they convert almost as much CO2 as terrestrial vegetation (Bouillion et al., 2008).

It should be noted that although costly for the consumer, sea urchin is quite sustainable, given that it only requires one pound of feed to produce two pounds of roe. Though this sounds significant, farmed bluefin tuna, in comparison, requires sixty pounds of feed to provide two pounds of tuna flesh. Similarly, twelve pounds worth of nourishment is needed to produce two pounds of beef.

Sea urchin, or uni, has yet to find itself on all restaurant menus because of what an acquired taste it is. Uni has an odd texture that is vaguely reminiscent of braised tongue with the flavor of mild caviar. Commonly served raw in sushi, it can sometimes be found in cooked dishes such as pastas and risottos. Although Bon Appétit has called it a food trend, it is not something that can be afforded by the average person. Two pieces of uni sushi tend to run at around ten dollars, compared to any other fish that costs about half of the price.