New Technology Supports Efforts to Restore Maine's Urchin Fishery

September 1, 2016 - While Maine’s 2016-2017 sea urchin season will be a repeat of last season in terms of the number of fishing days and daily landing limits, harvesters and dealers will be equipped with new technology designed to improve future prospects for this fishery.

Maine DMR is launching a new swipe card system for the sea urchin fishery. Developed with support from the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program, this system will create efficiencies for industry and DMR staff, and will support efforts to restore and sustain this fishery, at one time second only to lobster in landed value.

By automating required weekly dealer reports, previously done on paper, “swipe cards reduce the chance of human error which can occur when transcribing landings information,” said Trisha Cheney, DMR Resource Management Coordinator for Sea Urchins.

Similar to the elver fishery, each time urchin harvesters sell their product, they swipe their card in the dealer’s card reader, and the dealer enters the sales information into a computer loaded with customized reporting software.

Each transaction, including the harvester’s information encoded on a magnetic strip on the back of the card, and pounds and price entered by the dealer, will be uploaded from the dealer computer to a secure server accessed by DMR managers.

“My intent in expanding the use of the swipe card system is to ensure the accurate and timely landings information which is crucial to the successful management of Maine’s commercial fisheries,” said Patrick Keliher, Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner. “This is especially important in a fishery like this, which was once the second most valuable in Maine.”

Beginning in the 1980s, Maine sea urchin landings began to rise dramatically with the development of a market in Japan. The rising demand prompted increased fishing pressure. By 1995 there were 1,840 licensed harvesters who landed 34.2 million pounds valued at more than $35 million, behind only lobster in value for wild harvested fisheries.

However the increasing pressure on the resource resulted in a prohibition on new licenses, which is still in place. In 2015, Maine’s 305 urchin harvesters landed 1.5 million pounds valued at $4.3 million dollars.

“When managers must rely on insufficient or outdated information, it forces them to be more precautionary in their approach,” said Cheney. “By providing managers with more timely and accurate data, the new urchin swipe card system will improve our understanding of the fishery, allowing for more targeted measures, which could mean more harvesting opportunity in the future.”

“The DMR has had great success with the swipe card system in the elver fishery. This technology has helped Maine ensure the future of that important fishery,” said Keliher. “We anticipate that the swipe card system will also support efforts to restore and sustain Maine’s urchin fishery.”

The calendar for Maine’s 2016-2017 urchin season can be found on the Maine DMR website.