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Commercial and recreational marine fisheries
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Commercial Sea Urchin Fishing

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About the urchin fishery

The West coast urchin fishery began in California in the early 1970s. Prior to the discovery of Asian urchin markets, urchins were often destroyed and/or removed in California to protect valuable kelp harvest. Shortly after these markets were discovered the fishery boomed in California and quickly began in Oregon.

Sea urchins were first harvested in Oregon in Port Orford in 1986. Landings quickly escalated and peaked at 9.3 million pounds in 1994. During the peak years urchins were processed and packed in Oregon, where the fishery contributed millions of dollars to the local economy.

Since 1996, the urchin fishery has maintained only a fraction of its historical landing average. Landings have averaged roughly 570,000 lbs per year over the last decade, including 494,000 lbs landed in 2005.

Urchin boats in Oregon are small boats (40' or less) equipped with compressors that supply continuous air to divers from the surface. These boats make single day trips and deliver a live product.


Harvest methods

urchins red urchin cross section
Urchins are kept live until processed when uni (seen in cross section on the right ) is removed and packed for markets.

Sea urchins are harvested by divers, using surface supplied air. Urchins are picked out with rakes and measured to assure legal size. Divers store urchins in brailer nets and lift them to the surface using float bags.

Nearly all Oregon’s urchin harvest has been on the more commercially viable red urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus). Purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpurartus) have been harvested in some years, but in a fraction of the quantity of reds. The market for purple urchins is very specialized and not often available.

Urchin roe or "Uni" is removed and packed primarily for Japanesse markets, but is also commonly found at sushi restaurants throughout the world.


Biology of harvest

urchin in habitat
Purple urchins are smaller and have shorter spines. Red urchins can vary in color from pink to purple, but are most often red as their name implies. Here the smaller ones in the lower left are purple urchins, the larger ones are red urchins.

Resource management for urchins are similar to that of Dungeness crab, clams and most other shellfish.  Management focuses on allowing the animals multiple reproductive opportunities or cycles before they can be legally harvested.

Red urchins must be 3 ½ inches or larger in shell diameter (not including spines)

Purple urchins must be 2 inches or larger in shell diameter (not including spines)

Other key regulations include:

  • Urchins cannot be taken in water depths less than 10 feet mean lower low water.

  • Each diver must have an Oregon urchin permit. (a total of 30 exist)

  • Each diver must keep a logbook and return it to ODFW in each month urchins are harvested.

  • Some areas such as marine gardens, research areas, and areas where marine mammal conflict is an issue are closed to harvest.



Scott Groth- Marine Resources Program, Charleston
Phone: (541) 888-5515


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