The sea urchin fishery is an artisanal dive fishery, which targets red sea urchins, Mesocentrotus franciscanus, which are hand harvested, using an urchin rake. Small boats with multiple divers make single day trips and the sea urchins are shipped live to processing facilities in neighboring states then sold domestically. In this article, we refer to the process of harvesting and processing sea urchins in the factory.
– Sea urchins are spiny, ancient organisms, classified as Echinoidea. About 950 species of sea urchin exist around the world, living on the seabed of every ocean and inhabiting every depth zone – from the intertidal seashore down to 5,000 metres!
– Inside their spiky, spherical outer shell, they have a mouth, gut tube, a primitive nervous system, and five delicate tongues of gonads, which is the edible part (commonly known as roe or uni). The gonads function as both the reproductive organs and as nutrient storage.
Sea urchins take about four and a half years to grow from infancy to full size. The harvest season runs from June to August, and the very best sea urchins are found in July, just before the spawning season starts.
– Sea Urchin are predominantly harvested by hand by divers using surface supplied air, who often harvest other rock-dwelling species like Abalone at the same time. Some commercial divers maintain physical fitness by alternating diving or hookah days with snorkeling, even though they’re usually more than fit enough.
Some urchin are caught to be processed on shore, before being sold as a cleaned product. Some divers even take orders from their chefs over the phone on the way to the boat ramp, and only catch what they know can be traded live that day.
– Reef areas rich in biodiversity produce the best urchin. Abundant feed, in the form of the right-coloured kelp, is imperative. Experienced divers identify which individual urchins ate most of the best kelp the night before, as this will increase the volume of the roe by as much as 100%, and be solely responsible for the naturally variable quality of the roe. Divers take small boats to shallow regions at a depth of about five meters to search for sea urchins. At this depth, diving equipment is not required. Each one is carefully inspected for size and type, and only those that are fully matured are taken.
– Sea urchins are picked out with rakes and measured to ensure legal size. Divers store urchins in brailer nets and lift them to the surface using float bags.
Sea Urchin Processing in factory
1. Crack the shell
The size and the hardness of sea urchin is different one by one, so we crack the shell by hand without damaging the body. Staff crack the shell upon the order without making a stock, pack it quickly.
2. Peel off
Use a special spoon to carefully remove the body (edible part) from the shell without damaging. It is a very important process where the product’s performance is determined here.
After peeling off, staff quickly select the size, color etc. They are graded into S grade, A grade and B grade. S grade sea urchin can be taken only a little, it is very rare and precious.
4. Checking and packing
The body of sea urchin is visually checked one by one whether spit or cotton remains, and is packed according to the number of grams. This product is not sold at retail. Staff verify no foreign substance is mixed in or prescribed number of grams and expiration date on the package are correct.
5. Shipping and export
Sea urchin is an animal covered with hard shell. There are ovaries and testes inside the shell, which is the edible part = body part.
However, sea urchins are sensitive enough to start melting once you break the shell. Therefore, it is very hard to ship, preservative called alum is often used to prevent from melting. Alum prevents shape collapse, but loses the original melting texture and leaves the particular astringent taste on the tongue.
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Video source: Noal Farm