PUHA in the Media

Article - Nofima Enters Licence Agreement to produce Urchin Feed in Australia

NORWAY - Nofima has recently signed an agreement under which the company's unique sea urchin feed can be produced under licence in Australia and New Zealand. The agreement has been signed with the investment company Kaston International AS, which will develop the feed under the name Urchinomics.

The parties have previously entered into equivalent agreements for Japan, Canada and the USA.

With the new arrangement in place, Nofima’s exclusive feed can be produced under licence in many of the world’s most important sea urchin regions.

Wild-caught sea urchins

The feed is specially formulated for the breeding of sea urchins. It has distinct properties which mean that sea urchins can increase their roe content from 5 to 25 percent in just two months. For fishermen, this is crucial for increasing their income from the sea urchins.

The feed was developed by researchers in Tromsø, Bergen and Ås. Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Nofima
The roe, called gonads, can command a good price if it is of the right consistency, colour and flavour. In this respect, Nofima’s feed has performed very well in blind tests. The feed was developed by researchers in Tromsø, Bergen and Ås.

“The licence agreement with Kaston International is important for securing the commercial availability of research that contributes to a more sustainable production of sea urchins,” says Kjell-Åge Rognli, Business Development Manager at Nofima.

Tested in Japan

Since 2014, Urchinomics has been testing the feed in Miyagi, Japan, with pleasing results, and in 2016 an agreement was entered into with the Mitsubishi Group for the licensed production of the feed in Japan.

The company is now in dialogue with other world-leading feed producers regarding the start-up of licensed production in other parts of the world.

For the time being, the feed is now undergoing testing in several locations in Australia and Canada, and expectations are high that the results will come back positive, allowing for significant activity in these countries.

“With Nofima’s unique sea urchin feed, good relationships and access to the Japanese and Asian markets, combined with a rapidly growing network of breeders, we hope and believe that the new agreement will prove to be a success for both the environment and stakeholders,” says Brian Takeda of Urchinomics.

Environmental consequences

Along large parts of the coast, sea urchins are seen as a major problem, accounting for substantial environmental consequences. They can become so numerous that they consume entire kelp forests, causing an imbalance in the ecosystem.

One result of this is that the roe content is significantly reduced, decimating the fishermen’s earnings. By catching the urchins alive and providing them with feed, both the roe content and earnings increase. At the same time, the kelp forest has a chance to recover and grow back.

“For us, the income is not particularly impressive during the initial years, but if the feed is a success in the international markets, new collaborations would be likely to generate considerable value for licence holders, Nofima and breeders across the globe,” says Rognli.

TheFishSite News Desk

Article - BC companies gain ground in Hong Kong on sea urchin push

Under Current News - Jeanine Stewart

September 3, 2014, 5:18 pm

The upswell of interest in sea urchins among Hong Kong buyers has prompted British Columbia, Canada-based sea urchin diver David McRae to attend Seafood Expo Asia every year for the past four years.

McRae, a director of the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association (PUHA), has seen inquiries from Asia-based buyers at the show shift from being 90% focused on sea cucumbers and 10% on sea urchins four years ago to the complete inverse of that today.

This might have something to do with changes to the makeup of Hong Kong’s seafood scene since then.

“The amount of sushi restaurants in this town has quadrupled since then,” estimates Pat Fantillo, with sea urchin and sea cucumber supplier RBS Seafood. “Every time we come, we see a new sushi place.”

With traditional Japanese sushi comes uni, the Japanese word for sea urchin in its finished sushi-ready form.

PUHA has managed to increase market penetration in China during these four years, which could mean more demand in the long term.

Now, 30% of BC's sea urchin sales go to somewhere in China, compared to 15% four years ago. Of that 30%, 15% go to Hong Kong, 10% to Taiwan and 5% to mainland China.

The remaining majority chunk -- 70% of the total -- goes to the traditional market, Japan, PUHA executive director Geoff Krause told Undercurrent.

That compares to 85% to Japan, 5-7% to Taiwan and Hong Kong and the rest to Europe fire years ago, he added.

“I give some credit to the (Hong Kong) show, but most credit goes to one processor who’s been pouching hard,” Krause said, referring to Paladin, one of the major processors in PUHA. Other major processors that have helped make inroads include Grand Hale and Seagate, he said.

Hong Kong, through Seafood Expo Asia, has been perhaps the most significant entry point into the Chinese market for BC sea urchin harvesters, Krause said.

"We got twice as many contacts from this show last year than the China show," he said, “and the way they're adding up, I think it's going to be the same this year.”

McRae, however, is still waiting for the rising popularity of the product to pay off financially for fishermen.

“The demand has increased for sure, but it hasn’t affected the price,” he toldUndercurrent, referring to the ex-vessel price, which remains at $0.60 per pound including the shell.

The current level is far lower than the average $0.80/lb price the product used to command before the market crashed eight years ago due to a flood of Russian product that was believed to be illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU), Mike Featherstone, president of PUHA said.

“Now the market has come back and the demand has come back, but the price hasn’t really risen yet,” Featherstone told Undercurrent.

An advantage already seen is that the export price is up over the last few years as demand has increased, Featherstone said, citing Canadian government statistics.

Yet he believes part of the reason for the increased demand without the increase in price is that sea urchins are common globally, he said.

“They grow everywhere and they reproduce readily and even in the places where they overfished them, they’ve overfished them for many years and it’s hard to wipe them out,” he said. “Because of that it’s hard to distinguish yourselves globally, and it’s very competitive.”

Chile, Russia and Japan are all major suppliers as well as China, which farms them.

Historic foundation in sea cucumbers

Sea cucumbers, meanwhile, continue to be an incredibly lucrative item, selling for $7/lb., ex-vessel price last year, Featherstone said.

The price last year jumped up too quickly however so there is a lot of resistance right now on the price.

At this point, 95% of British Columbia’s sea cucumber harvest goes to China, and 100% to Asia, Fantillo told Undercurrent.

Plus, sea urchins prove challenging to export. It only takes a little over a week before a harvested sea urchin to lose its freshness, so getting it from harvest to plate is a speedy process, McRae said.

Yet sea urchins are much more plentiful, at a quota of 10 million pounds this year, with 8.5m expected to be harvested and potentially more, Featherstone said. That compares to a 1.4m pound quota for sea cucumbers.

He is not alone, however, in his quest to increase the product’s market penetration in Hong Kong. The provincial government’s trade department, Trade and Invest British Columbia, has an office in Hong Kong, and the agency has led delegations of BC  seafood suppliers to China to help secure deals.

As related as Japan and China may seem to the Western world, Chinese interest in sea urchins has only developed recently as an interest in Japan’s sushi tradition has risen in the culinary world.

Known as uni in the Japanese culinary world, their rising availability and popularity has been highlighted by the New York Times and Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun and Australia’sWeekly Times Now in recent years.

Meanwhile, the sea cucumber’s popularity with Chinese chefs needs no introduction, as it dates back thousands of years. It is a key ingredient in dishes served on New Years and in an ancient Confucian recipe, according to Subhuti Dharmananda, founder of the Institute for Traditional Medicine.

It is also seen as a nutritional supplement, revered as — among other things — an anti-inflammatory.

posted on puha.org: January 16, 2015

Article - Sea urchins and humans share genes

from - SFU - Bruce Brandhorst (Port Moody), 604.291.5366, brandhor@sfu.ca Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 604.291.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca , November 16, 2006

Simon Fraser University molecular biologists have helped a worldwide team of scientists make a discovery that could advance doctors’ understanding of how genetic diseases occur and how to treat them. Bruce Brandhorst, Jack Chen and Karl Bergeron are among 200 researchers who have learned that many of the gene families in the sea urchin, a simple spiny marine animal, are the same as those in the human and other complex vertebrates. The journal Science has published the researchers’ findings in its November issue. The sea urchin has many genes linked to human diseases such as Huntington’s chorea, muscular dystrophy, Usher syndrome, neurological disorders and atherosclerosis. This genetic similarity, combined with the transparency of the sea urchin’s embryonic stage “will enable scientists to test hypotheses about the function of genes in human development,” says Brandhorst. “The sea urchin will also be a valuable biomedical model for understanding the evolution of sensory organs and elaborate but distinctive immune systems in animals.” Chen used his expertise in bioinformatics (computational mining of DNA data) to help scientists identify genes involved in detecting chemicals. Scientists at the Vancouver Genome Sciences centre at the British Columbia Cancer agency helped map the sea urchin’s DNA genome. Brandhorst, the chair of the molecular biology and biochemistry department at SFU, helped uncover genetic similarities between the sea urchin’s and the human sensory nervous systems. Sea urchins lack eyes, ears and noses. But these underwater hedgehog look-a-likes have many genes involved in vision, hearing and detection of chemicals, like their more highly evolved distant cousins, humans. Sea urchins use their tube feet, hose-like appendages with suction cups for movement, to sense their environment.

posted on puha.org: March 13, 2007

Article - Fish News Summary March 2, 2007

from - D&D Pacific Fisheries ltd. , March 02, 2007

Last year the Canadian DFO got hit with a court ruling saying that they could not use sales of fish from chartered fishing vessels to pay for research. The court said the fish were in the public domain, and DFO was appropriating them for its own budget. Now the start of the BC snow crab fishing season, and possibly the sablefish season as well, is being jeopardized because the DFO cannot fund the test fisheries that have been used to determine opening dates. -

posted on puha.org: March 12, 2007

Article - Our humble sea urchin caught in Russian plot -

from - © The Vancouver Province 2007 , March 06, 2007

A top-level summit takes place in Vancouver today to discuss an international threat to British Columbia's sea-urchin industry, once worth almost $16 million a year at the wholesale level. But the market for our urchin -- mainly in Japan, where the creatures are eagerly devoured as a delicacy -- is in turmoil. And it's all due to Russian pirates scraping the ocean bottom around the Kurile Islands in a fishery that is both unregulated and illegal. Summit delegates will be told the rogue fishery operates in defiance of environmental sustainability. The plundered urchin are of a good quality, though, and are sold cheaply enough to undercut the legal competition. The message to Ottawa is this: Tell Moscow we won't stand for any more of their fishy trade tactics.

What do you think? Leave a brief comment, name and your town at: 604-605-2029, fax: 604-605-2099 or e-mail: provletters@png.canwest.com - posted on puha.org: March 12, 2007

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