At Ocean Wise, we often discuss various fishing and farming methods and how they impact the environment. One method of harvesting that often gets missed in the conversation is hand-harvesting. Hand-harvesting is arguably the most environmentally sustainable method of harvesting seafood from the wild. In hand-harvest fisheries, harvesters individually pick organisms from the ocean floor, often using scuba gear. Because people can control exactly what to harvest, this method incurs no bycatch and has minimal habitat damage. Hand-harvesting is used around the world for various types of seafood including shellfish, kelp, echinoderms, crabs, and even some flatfish species.
Ocean Wise recently partnered with two associations that represent such diver-caught fisheries in British Columbia – the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association (PUHA) and the Pacific Sea Cucumber Harvesters Association (PSCHA). Both associations represent license holders in the fisheries and their main goal is to focus on sustainability and innovation to promote sound practices and sustainable management of sea urchin and sea cucumber fisheries in BC.
In BC, there are 2 commercial sea urchin fisheries – the green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and the red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus). Both come from the clean cold Pacific waters off our coast and produce some of the word’s highest quality uni, or sea urchin gonads. Hand-picked sea urchins are weighed, and the date and area of harvest are recorded by an independent third-party validating company before being sent off to processing plants. The sea urchin fisheries are strictly managed using a precautionary approach that includes conservative harvest quotas, annual biomass surveys, and minimum size limits. PUHA conducts annual biomass surveys in collaboration with DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), First Nations, and other stakeholders to better understand the population size and structure.
The BC sea cucumber fishery is also heavily regulated in collaboration with DFO and First Nations. Similar to the sea urchin fishery, hand-harvested sea cucumbers are required to be validated by a DFO certified observer at the point and time of landing in order to ensure quotas are not exceeded. A cool sustainable fact about sea cucumbers is that 100% of the organism is consumed – including the skin! The research and monitoring done by both fisheries ensure that the commercial harvest will always be sustainable and conservative.
Environmental sustainability is not the only benefit of diver-caught seafood. Because the organisms are carefully picked by hand and handled with caution, diver-caught seafood is also often the highest quality seafood on the market – no bruises or scratches on these guys!
Next time you see BC sea urchin or sea cucumber on the menu, you can be certain that it is a sustainable, high-quality, and delicious option! Diver-caught BC sea urchin and sea cucumber are both Ocean Wise recommended options and are rated as Best Choices by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
This blog was written by Ocean Wise seafood Account Coordinator Shiori Ito