Industry-led sea urchin restoration project gets DMR boost

ELLSWORTH — An industry-led effort to determine whether sea urchins can be encouraged to grow in once fertile habitat got a boost last week. The Department of Marine Resources Advisory Council unanimously approved a regulation closing a part of the Sheepscot River to urchin fishing for nearly three years.

The closure, which went into effect on Monday and expires May 1, 2018, extends along the western side of Southport Island near Boothbay Harbor in the area around Cat Ledges. The area has been closed to give DMR an opportunity to study whether a viable fishery can be re-established in an area that once supported a substantial urchin harvest but is now virtually devoid of urchins. The project calls for transplanting wild sea urchins into the area and seeding it with juvenile urchins raised at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin.

According to DMR, the industry-led plan was developed through the Sea Urchin Zone Council. Commercial harvesters will do the majority of the work on the project with support from the department and University of Maine scientists on the panel.

The sea urchin fishery is important to Maine, but harvesters have struggled with a resource that is in precarious shape, especially in the western part of the state.

Urchin landings have shown a steady decline over the past five years. In 2010, Maine divers and draggers harvested some 2.6 million pounds of urchins worth about $5.5 million. Last year, Maine divers and draggers harvested just under 2 million pounds of sea urchins, but their haul was still worth some $5.4 million.

That’s a far cry from the numbers recorded during the fishery’s gold rush days of the early 1990s.

In 1993, urchin landings topped 41.6 million pounds and brought harvesters some $26.8 million. Two years later, the catch was valued at $35.6, but at 34.3 million pounds, landings were already on their way into freefall.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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