Urchinomics turns ecologically destructive sea urchins into a premium food. Removing the urchins from the seabed helps to restore kelp forests – the foundation of marine ecosystems and an important contributor to carbon sequestration.
Due to an unfortunate combination of overfishing and climate change, sea urchins have been left to reproduce unhindered in many of the world’s oceans. This has led to overgrazing and destruction of massive kelp forests – large, underwater jungles which support over 700 different marine species.
California, Canada, Japan and Norway, as well as parts of Australia, have lost over 50 per cent of their kelp forests due to urchin overgrazing. Kelp forests are vital marine ecosystems, without which marine and human life will be severely affected. The forests are also “carbon sinks”, which absorb and store carbon otherwise released to the atmosphere.
When left unchecked, sea urchins devour entire kelp forests down to the bare rock, leaving lifeless and barren areas under water, where the urchins then go into hibernation and their roe shrivels up.
Urchinomics has developed a proprietary land-based urchin ranching system for turning hibernating sea urchins into a high-end food product. Sea urchins are collected in their dormant state and fed with sustainably produced feed. After six to 12 weeks, the urchins are revived and filled with high-quality roe, or “uni”, a seafood delicacy in many parts of the world.
Urchinomics’ technology differs from traditional aquaculture in that it does not hatch animals from eggs and breed them to maturity. Instead, the company collects wild animals and fattens them up for consumption. When sea urchins are removed from barren sea floors this way, kelp spores settle onto the ocean floor and rapidly form new kelp.
Urchinomics turns a marine pest into a seafood delicacy. The company helps to restore kelp forests, while at the same time providing high-end restaurants with premium sea urchin roe.
Restoring kelp forests brings back biodiversity, sequesters carbon, minimises the impacts of ocean acidification, and creates meaningful jobs in rural, coastal communities.
The global peak supply of sea urchins occurred in 1995, at 105 000 metric tons. Current supply levels are 35 000 metric tons lower, while the demand is higher than ever after China’s explosive economic growth and the ubiquitousness of sushi restaurants in many parts of the world. As wild stocks of sea urchins are overexploited and depleting, the growing supply-demand gap needs to be filled using aquaculture.
Established in 2016, Urchinomics has offices in Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the US. In addition to sea urchin production, the company will create joint ventures with international investors to bring expertise and technology onto the international market. Urchinomics’ partners include Nofima, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research and Cflow Fish Handling in Norway and Mitsubishi Corporation in Japan.
Collecting and ranching of sea urchins
Protecting coastal ecosystems
Restoring marine ecosystems and sequestering carbon