Bottom Fell Out of Alaska Urchin Market
By LAINE WELCH
October 10, 2016
Southeast Alaska allows for a three million pound red urchin take, down from seven million pounds in the 1990s when 150 divers would be on the grounds. The actual harvest today is closer to 300,000 pounds taken by five to 10 divers, said Phil Doherty, director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association in Ketchikan. It was quality problems, otters and a huge dump of Russian roe over the past decade pretty much did the local fishery in.
Red sea urchin
The softball sized red urchins pay between 35 to 55 cents at the docks. Green sea urchins found around Kodiak Island pay well over $1 a pound, but no fishery has occurred there for 15 years.
Harvests peaked in 1988 at around 150,000 pounds taken by a dozen boats, then tapered off to just 27,000 pounds by the late 1990s, said Nat Nichols, area manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. He agrees that the bottom fell out of the Alaska uni market.
“It’s a real high end market,” Nichols said. “They’re looking for not only live urchins with high quality roe, but also really pretty urchins with no broken spines and things like that. It was difficult and not profitable to try and move urchins out of Kodiak in October.
Meanwhile, the ISF Trading Company in Portland, Maine lists live, whole green sea urchins at $4 a pound, and fresh uni at $10 for quarter pound trays.
Laine Welch ©2016
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