The California Sea Urchin Commission Uses Grant Funding to Help the Industry
The California Sea Urchin Commission uses grant funding to enhance sea urchin production through online marketing to bring awareness to the industry and improve resiliency.
In October of 2021, the California Sea Urchin Commission (CSUC) received a grant from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) in partnership with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), after they issued a request for proposal for grants to fund projects that investigate ways to improve resiliency in California’s urchin fisheries and mitigate the effects of kelp loss. The marketing of sea urchins was listed in the criteria to be awarded funding.
The CSUC does not catch sea urchins nor sell them. Instead, they represent and promote the industry to the public and the government.
Dave Colker, a California Sea Urchin Commissioner, applied for the grant and was awarded funding to increase the marketing of the sea urchin industry. Colker focused on improving the traffic to the California Sea Urchin Commission website and updating the website with relevant industry information by hiring a website designer and a data analysis firm and chose to advertise in the Log.
“The grant runs through June of 2024, and I expect to see an increase in usage of our website and hopefully an increase of overall purchases of sea urchins from processors and divers, who sell directly to the public,” said Colker. “The website has an area dedicated to the promotion of divers who direct market their product and the processors.”
The PSMFC and NOAA also awarded other grants for projects to the CSUC that are now implemented, dealing with kelp restoration, reef rehabilitation, and exploring additional beneficial uses for Purple Sea Urchins.
A select group of professional underwater divers with permits from the state of California through the Department of Fish and Wildlife harvests California Sea Urchins. Sea Urchins are harvested primarily for the edible portion inside their shell, called uni. The uni is served at sushi bars and is well-known amongst sushi aficionados. Uni is graded by its taste, texture, and appearance. California uni is unique due to the water temperature and the food source for the sea urchin. As a result, California Sea Urchin is regarded as the world’s highest-quality sea urchin and is consumed worldwide. Major markets that purchase California Uni are Rome, New York, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, San Diego, and many more.
The CSUC group of Urchin Divers was established in 2004 and operates under state law to ensure sustainable sea urchin resources and a reliable supply of quality seafood products for domestic consumption and export. The CSUC is funded by urchin divers through assessments on landings of sea urchins. The CSUC structure has board members that represent the divers and the processors. In addition, it handles various industry issues, often with government agencies, such as the CDFW, The Governor’s Office, and California State Representatives. CSUC is directed by a commission that includes five elected divers, five elected processors, and one appointed public member. The commission also has several non-voting members representing government entities that are significant to the sea urchin fishery.
CSUC proactively set forth guidelines and rules that ensure a sustainable fishery. Examples of measures and laws enacted to protect the fishery are size limits and closure days. In addition, CSUC allows a sea urchin to get to a 3 1/2″ shell before harvesting and has a seasonal schedule to let sea urchins reproduce.
“California Sea Urchin Divers have to be first off, a California Commercial Fisherman, and possess a license to do so,” said Colker. “Second, they need to possess a California Sea Urchin Diving Permit. Sea Urchin Dive permits are issued by The California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
To get a sea urchin diving permit, an individual must be involved in the industry for a minimum of two seasons as a licensed commercial fisherman and have a crewmember permit. Once the eligible individual is ready and accredited, they can enter “the lottery.” The lottery is held annually, and issuance is based on the number of divers with permits versus those who did not renew their permits. Also involved in the criteria for being an urchin diver is the willingness to work in the professional industry of commercial urchin diving. Commercial urchin diving is a laborious job, which combines understanding the laws of diving, the regulations of harvesting sea urchins, and having the physical attributes to accomplish the task. Many new sea urchin divers nowadays have worked as deckhands for years, and this allows them to have a better understanding and progress toward becoming a diver. In addition, there are many other jobs in the California Sea Urchin Industry worth noting, such as processing facilities that hire truck drivers, line workers, and administrative positions.
For more information, please visit www.calurchin.org.