GPS Tracking Being Used in Sea Urchin Harvesting

5 Sep 2017

Harvesters in the Blue Hill Bay sea urchin experimental management area in Maine who’re intending to fish for sea urchins will soon need to have a global positioning system tracker installed on their vessels to enter the zone. There have been problems with overfishing of sea urchins in the area. It’s, therefore, hoped that this measure will help protect the species from becoming endangered or even extinct.

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) recently held a meeting to demonstrate and distribute the electronic tracking devices to sea urchin harvesters in the area. The units must be continually turned on to enable the tracking of vessels for the whole duration of the urchin harvest season. The DMR has decided on a 45-day season from which harvesters can choose as many as 38 days to fish.

It’s hoped that DMR scientists will collate crucial data on the behavior of the fishery. Over the coming four fishing season, the DMR plan to close off different reefs or ledges to ascertain how  the seas urchins thrive in their natural habitat.

The DMR also plans to conduct annual meetings with industry insiders to help decide where these experimental closures should be. If there is not enough tracking data collated this coming year to provide the information needed, the DMR plans to carry out the tracking for a second year.

Although sea urchins are not currently endangered, they could become so in the future. The creatures are delicacies in countries like Japan and others. Sea urchins are comparable to oysters in terms of their flavor. They are often served raw as an appetizer. The Italians tend to create pasta dishes with sea urchins.

The spiky creatures are prized for their rich orange roe known as uni in sushi restaurants. Although this food is most associated with Japan, sea urchin has become a staple on many stateside menus. Due to its popularity, the creatures are being overfished.

According to an article in The Atlantic, the stocks have diminished $35 million per year and are currently only $5 million in Maine. It’s hoped that this mandatory GPS tracking will help pinpoint any overfishing. It will then be easier for experts to create a plan for maintaining sea urchin colonies in the area.

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