CELS scientist to lead effort to boost sea urchin farming in New England

Green sea urchin brood stock at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research. (Photo courtesy of Coleen Suckling)

A team of researchers, aquaculture production specialists and educators, led by a University of Rhode Island scientist, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center to improve hatchery production of the green sea urchin and engage prospective urchin farmers on growout possibilities in the Gulf of Maine and coastal northern New England.

The $100,000 project is led by Coleen Suckling, URI assistant professor of sustainable aquaculture, with collaborators Steve Eddy and Luz Kogson of the University of Maine, Larry Harris of the University of New Hampshire, and Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

According to Suckling, the green sea urchin is the target of a lucrative fishery in Maine, but one experiencing low harvest levels in recent years due to a combination of overharvesting and shifts in habitat. Efforts to produce urchins through aquaculture have not proven profitable or effective in augmenting wild populations.

There is a strong international demand for sea urchins, mostly driven by the Asian market, yet this demand is poorly met by North American suppliers, largely due to declining natural stocks and increased stock regulation,” said Suckling. “There is, therefore, substantial potential for aquaculture growth of urchins, and interest to grow sea urchins in New England is expanding, which our new project will help support by providing seed stock and technical advice at no cost.”

Recent advances in technology, techniques and feeds at urchin farms around the world will enable Suckling and staff at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research to study how to adapt these advances to local hatchery and nursery culture.

“Hatcheries across the world show that it’s possible to reliably grow hundreds of thousands of sea urchin seed in a predictable and cost-effective fashion,” Eddy said.

“The challenge lies in optimizing the hatchery methods, which are specific to the species, the location and the seawater conditions available to each hatchery,” Suckling added…[Read more]