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Charting sea urchins in Greenland

NORWAY - Is commercialisation of sea urchins in Greenland possible? Senior Scientist Sten Siikavuopio is participating in the charting of sea urchin stocks and can report promising findings.

This sea urchin from Greenland can provide the basis for business activity.
Circular traps like this ensure the sea urchins are gently collected from the sea floor.

The roe from the green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) is a delicacy in demand, but wild stocks have decreased sharply on a world-wide basis.

The search is now on for new areas where stocks may exist, and a host of organisations in Greenland want to investigate whether sea urchins in their waters are up to standard.

Fiskeriforskning was contacted, and several searches have taken place this year along selected sections of the Greenland coastline.

The objective is to chart stocks, assess the quality of these and investigate whether commercialisation of this resource is possible.

Roe quality good

Purpose-built circular traps have been developed to catch the sea urchins in a gentle manner. The traps remain in the water for a couple of days before they are pulled up.

When the catch is on board, the roe size, colour, taste and consistency is assessed. The desirable colour is dark yellow or orange, the taste fresh and the consistency firm and slightly granular.

"We have found a lot of sea urchins and the roe quality is good. However, some challenges still remain," says Siikavuopio.

Requires gentle transport

"Since fresh sea urchins demand the highest price, it's necessary to take them to a processing plant relatively quickly. Such plants do not currently exist in Greenland and the road network is not sufficiently developed. The sea urchins must be transported by boat to the airport."

Previous research has shown that sea urchins are demanding to store. They are vulnerable to damage, frost, temperature and sun light, and may not be packed too closely together.

Special crates have been developed to ensure sea urchins thrive during storage, whether stored dry or in water.

Favourite in Japan

If sea urchins from Greenland become an export item, chances are Japan they will end up in Japan. Sea urchins are sold in many countries but, with an annual consumption of more than 60,000 tonnes, Japan accounts for 90 percent of the market share. Sea urchins are common in Japan, particularly on formal occasions.

Sea urchin products are available in many varieties. Some prefer eating straight from the shell, while others like them blanched or in brine. Sea urchin roe is often used in Japan as a snack or served with sushi.

Siikavuopio and his colleagues at Fiskeriforskning have carried out considerable research on sea urchins, including farming, quality, feed production and catching equipment.

This three-year project is part financed by Nordic Atlantic Co-operation (NORA) in collaboration with the Business Council of Sisimiut, Sisimiut Fish, the Directorate for Hunting and Fishing in Nuuk and Sisimiut Municipal Council.