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 (Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis) 

 Prepared by the
Gulf of Maine Aquarium
January 10, 2001

Table of Contents 




Our thanks to the many people who have made this project happen.  It would not have been undertaken without the commitment and vision of Linda Mercer, Director of the Bureau of Resource Management at the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR).  Her participation at every step of the way is an integral part of the final product.  Particular thanks go for her careful editing of the document.  Sue Inches, Director of Industry Development at DMR saw the opportunity to get funding and has provided support throughout.  Paul Anderson, Director of the Maine Sea Grant Marine Extension Program (MSGMEP), provided funding and his planning skills, took excellent notes, and generously contributed his staff.  The staff of DMR and MSGMEP helped in the planning and in making both the substance and the details of the meetings work.  Finally, without the fishermen and scientists who attended the meetings, this project would not have gone forward nor produced worthwhile results.  

Robin Alden
Don Perkins
Gulf of Maine Aquarium


I.  Background

Green sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis, are Maine's fourth largest fishery by value, worth $20.3 million in 1999.  The fishery is conducted by three gear types:  drag, dive and hand raking.  Entry to the fishery is limited.  In 1999 there were 340 drag licenses, 763 dive licenses, and 4 hand raking licenses.  The fishery is open entry for dive tenders, of which there were 536 in 1999, making a total of 1643 people involved in the fishery.  Tenders must attend a safety course prior to fishing.   Retired licenses are distributed by lottery once a year based on a ratio of one new license for each five retired. 

The fishery is limited by a limited number of opportunity days that are established each year by recommendation of the Sea Urchin Zone Council (SUZC).  There is a minimum size limit of 2” and a 3 1/2" maximum size limit.  The SUZC membership includes fishermen of all gear types, dealers, processors, and scientists appointed by the Commissioner of Marine Resources. 

The fishery had existed at below a million pounds for years, until 1987, when the Japanese started buying Maine urchins.  The fishery was unregulated and exploded to a high of more than 41 million pounds in 1993.  It has since declined to 15 million pounds in 1998 and 1999. 


II.  The DMR Research Priorities Project

These sea urchin research priorities are part of a larger research agenda-setting effort conducted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) for five of Maine's major commercial species:  clams, lobsters, scallops, sea urchins, and shrimp. 

Establishment of research priorities was identified during the late 1990’s as a key strategy to accomplish several of DMR's agency goals as well as the King Administration's 1996 Jobs from the Sea Initiative.  The ultimate purpose of the DMR research priority project is to ensure that fishery management decisions are based upon the best scientific and technical information so that Maine's marine resources are sustainable and productive.  The articulation of an agenda, however, will accomplish several other goals.  First, by establishing and communicating a shared vision of comprehensive research needs, it will stimulate a market for research that serves the state's needs.  Second, DMR will be able to direct internal funding decisions appropriately and identify and involve potential research partners from the broader marine science community, including the fisheries and aquaculture industries.  Third, the agenda should enable the entire marine science community to develop quick responses to outside funding opportunities on topics that serve the state's needs.

The project was conducted under contract by the Gulf of Maine Aquarium (GMA).  It was funded by a planning grant from the Economic Development Administration, the DMR, and the University of Maine Sea Grant Program.  The GMA consultants, DMR, and University of Maine Marine Extension Team staffed the project.


III.  Methodology

For each fishery, at least one, all-day meeting was held.  The meetings were designed to be non-regulatory, neutral, and inclusive following a format developed by the GMA in previous efforts for other species. The meetings brought together fishermen, academic scientists, government scientists, and fishery managers as equals.   They created a safe environment for curiosity and questioning.  Seven meetings were held on five fisheries to achieve broad input along the coast. 

Four topics were chosen for each species and scientists were invited to make short presentations on each of the topics.  In addition each of the presenters were asked to write a short analysis on some aspect of the topic or his/her research questions for the final report. 

Meetings ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with breaks and lunch provided.  Each day was divided into four sessions, each on a specific topic pertinent to the species.  Each of the four sessions had the same format.  First, the group spent ten or fifteen minutes brainstorming the questions they had about the resource.  Then the invited presenter gave a short presentation on the selected topic and his or her major research questions about the species.  After that, the group discussed the topic and the presentation, generating a list of questions that were summarized by one of the facilitators for later ranking.  At the end of the day, one half hour was spent in an informal ranking process where everyone was given 10 sticky notes to stick by the topics of their choice.  The day wrapped up with an oral evaluation and discussion of follow-up and ways to improve the process.

Publicity for the meetings was customized for each fishery.  Methods included direct mail to license holders, personal contact with association leaders, and posters distributed to sites in each town.  All of the meetings were covered in press releases to local and statewide papers.    


IV.  Sea Urchin Research Priority Meeting

The urchin meeting was held at the Orland Town Hall in Orland, Maine May 11, 2000 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Topics and presenters included:

1.  Life History/Behavior      Larry G. Harris, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire
2.  Stock Assessment       Shawn Robinson, Ph.D., Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, St. Andrews, NB

3.  Management Issues      Robert Steneck, Ph.D., University of Maine
4.  Urchin Health                Paul Waterstrat, Ph.D., DMR

Forty-nine people attended the urchin meeting.  They included past and present members of the SUZC -- fishermen, processors and dealers, and scientists.  Draggers, divers, aquaculturists, and shoreside dealers and processors were represented among the industry attendees.  Scientific attendees came from as far away as Villanova in Pennsylvania, as well as both public and private research facilities in Maine.  The DMR staff from both the scientific and management sides of the agency were present.


V.  Sea Urchin Report Format

Results of the meeting are presented in two different formats:

      1.   Priorities voted by the group (Section VI) which are presented with context; and
2.   A detailed, categorized listing of questions, observations, and opinions articulated during the discussion (Section VII).

The dual format is necessary in order to capture the richness of the meeting.  The priorities organize thought and focus effort.  The details are essential because it is  the local observations and questions that provide the raw material of good scientific hypothesis.  Although the urchin meeting was divided into four segments:  Life History/Behavior, Stock Assessment, Management Issues, Urchin Health, the report is not structured around those categories except where it makes sense.  Many topics, such as growth and reproduction, and nearshore oceanography were raised in several of the segments.  Therefore we have given precedence to the priorities articulated at the meeting rather than those used to organize the meeting.  Furthermore, we have not attempted to categorize the research questions by scientific discipline.  Under a given priority one might find questions for oceanographers, basic biologists, and economists or anthropologists.  The solutions to these problems require collaboration between disciplines and between science and industry.  The first step is to articulate the questions in such a way that a researchers and industry are exposed to the question's rich context

In every workshop there were questions and suggestions about management process and communication between fishermen, scientists, and managers.  We have included these observations and suggestions in the report.  We have not included specific suggestions for management measures because those fall outside the scope of this study. 


VI.  Priority Research Questions

Research Context and Group Research Priorities

Research priorities in the urchin fishery are both well-grounded in immediate, practical management questions and at the same time require answers to basic scientific questions about oceanography, life history, ecology, and disease.  The evolution of urchin co-management with the state also presents a number of avenues for policy work.

Process questions around management decisions were expressed less urgently than they were in some other fisheries such as clams. Nonetheless, there were many specific suggestions and a focus on the need for better communications between scientists and the industry, particularly in designing and carrying out reseeding experiments.  Reconciling the desire for action and experimentation on the part of the industry with the need to collect information in a scientifically rigorous way will require considerable investment in communication and mutual education.  There was a recognition that communication needs to improve in both directions between the industry and the SUZC. 


Urchin Priority 1:  Reseeding Urchins and Closed Areas

The overwhelming interest in urchin research expressed at the meetings lies in those basic and practical questions that surround development and evaluation of both rotating closures and reseeding urchins for public stock enhancement.  Scientific work has shown that the cycle of urchin barren and macroalgal community (kelp forest) does not necessarily rotate but instead may be two alternative steady states that do not switch without some external stimulus.  Without intervention, it is not clear whether urchins are able to reestablish themselves after macroalgae such as kelp has grown.  This may seem counterintuitive, since urchins prefer kelp as feed.  However, at small sizes, it appears urchins have difficulty becoming established in the mature algal beds, which provide habitat for many small urchin predators.

Participants expressed strong interest in evaluating rotational closures as a way to avoid overfishing and prevent the change in habitat from urchin barren to kelp forest.  The question is still unanswered whether urchins would reestablish themselves if fishing pressure were removed without any other intervention.  There is strong interest in reseeding for three distinct purposes (in order of priority):  1) to change the environment by shifting a kelp forest to an urchin barren to reestablish productive urchin bottom, 2) to enhance reproduction in the area, and 3) to enhance quality or fatten urchins. 

Research priorities are:

a)      Evaluate urchin rotational closures both before and after overfishing and habitat shift:
-      Can closures prevent overfishing? 
-      Can closures prevent habitat shift?
-      Will closures enable urchins to reestablish themselves after a habitat shift?

b)      Create adequate experimental design for urchin reseeding that fishermen can participate in, in 2001. 

c)      Develop effective urchin reseeding techniques:  timing, disease and urchin source issues, choice of area, handling.

d)      Conduct onsite collaborative experimentation to evaluate the biological and ecological aspects of urchin reseeding and closed areas relative to the three purposes:

-      To change ecology by harvesting kelp;
-      To provide reproduction in that area;
-      To enhance quality, "fatten" urchins.


Urchin Priority 2:  Urchin Health Issues

Health concerns ran a close second to the closure and reseeding issues.  Urchin health and urchin diseases are neither well understood nor well defined in the scientific literature, particularly in light of the possibility of significant regional differences.  Urchin populations experience periodic die-offs.  Environmental stress is known to be one significant variable in these episodes but what the specific stressors are and how they operate within urchin populations is unknown.  In addition to the oceanographic changes contributing to environmental stress, participants considered a number of human activities including harvesting methods and pollution.  The traditional elements of the urchin fishery:  shipping, processing, and dumping waste across habitats all provide opportunity for the spread of a disease.  Now, as the fishery becomes involved with reseeding urchins from both hatchery operations and wild stocks, the disease issues become more complex.  The state health infrastructure is unable to do significant monitoring, diagnostics, or management. 

Research priorities are:

a)      Define and prioritize disease issues raised by urchin aquaculture.
b)      Examine health issues raised by reseeding urchins from one locale to another.
c)      Examine effects on urchin health of human activities such as harvest method, disposal of processing wastes, dredging, and pollution.
d)      Document the capacity of the current health management infrastructure and make recommendations for change.

-      Can the urchin industry collaborate in health monitoring?
-      Best management practices for the urchin industry.

“Establish either voluntary or mandatory management practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease within the state … Regulatory procedures for transfer of wild urchins among beds or areas within the state are ill defined.  Biosecurity issues associated with sea urchin processing are a growing concern …  Improper disposal of wastes from imported urchins poses a disease risk.”

Paul Waterstrat, Ph.D.

Attachment B



Urchin Priority 3:  Local Management

The Sea Urchin Zone Council (SUZC) has provided the fishery with a rudimentary form of co-management.  Fishermen of both major gear types, dealers, processors, and scientists have participated in management decisions and research planning.  Now, as the fishery is looking seriously at enhancement through reseeding and closures, the policy issues that occur in any enhancement fishery are emerging as high priority. 

These issues include an evaluation of the benefits and costs of different types of  ownership of areas where culture techniques are being used:  private aquaculture versus community enhancement.  At the same time, as the SUZC process gains some maturity, and as local closures and reseeding projects are undertaken, all of which are place-based, there is interest in the issues involved with refining both collaborative research and local management.

Research priorities are: 

      a)      Evaluate the costs/benefits of public versus private access to urchin resource.
b)      Evaluate the potential for local urchin management and its impact on questions of privatization.
c)      Develop collaborative urchin research proposals that respect both fishermen's need for action and results and appropriate scientific method. 
d)      Get cooperation and participation locally in stewardship activities such as urchin reseeding or kelp clearing.


“Thus it appears that fisheries induced declines in urchin abundance and size translates to improved habitat for micropredatory crabs that consume virtually all newly settled sea urchins within one year.  Since urchins cannot naturally reseed themselves in an environment rich with micropredators, then grazing will remain low and the system will remain stable in the macroalgal-dominated state.”

 Robert Steneck, Ph.D.

Attachment C



Urchin Priority 4:  Oceanography and Life History

For urchins, as for most commercial species, the interface between oceanography and reproductive success is a mystery still unsolved.  The ecological questions about predators, food, and competition link with questions as basic as the behavioral and chemical stimuli for reproductive behavior.  Other ecological questions include the role of large urchins, urchin barrens, and urchin movement.  Ultimately, fishermen who are taking care of closed and/or reseeded areas need to gain understanding about where the larvae produced there will settle, and the source of the natural settlement they receive.  Because of the local nature of the urchin fishery, and because local management is partially implemented, the questions are being asked at a very fine scale, such as local bays and the characteristics and behaviors of urchins in those areas.

In recent years both fishermen's observations and scientific developments have suggested that reducing fishing pressure alone may not be enough to rebuild the urchin resource.  A complex ecological interaction between urchins, macroalgae such as kelp, and micropredators such as sea fleas, is emerging.  Questions that will expand this knowledge of urchin life history and its interactions with its biological, chemical, and physical habitat dominate the urchin research agenda. 

Research priorities are:

      a)      Study nearshore oceanography to understand its impact on urchin larval transport and the relationship between larval source and urchin settlement.
b)      Understand urchin spawning, settlement survival, size/age ratio, and other biological measures in a local context to support local management.

A more difficult problem will be the raising of juvenile urchins from settlement size of 0.5 mm up to a size where survival when seeded is reasonable.  The Japanese raise juveniles to about 20-25 mm before releasing them.  In the highly seasonal Gulf of Maine, timing of release may be more important than size.

Larry G. Harris, Ph.D.

Attachment D



Urchin Priority 5:  Urchin Stock Assessments

The state is not currently doing any assessment of the urchin population, in contrast to New Brunswick, which conducts a regular assessment. (Robinson, Appendix)  Given Maine's coastline, an urchin assessment would be costly, not to be undertaken without considerable evaluation.  Participants at the meeting were most interested in the predictive qualities of an urchin larval survey, another expression of the questions that exist about larval source and sink.  Improvement of landings information is a priority for DMR right now, although it did not emerge as a high priority from the meeting.  It could emerge from a collaborative effort to arrive at an assessment strategy for the state.

Research priorities are:

a)      Collaborate with industry in the design and execution of an urchin assessment.
-      Clarify the purpose of the assessment.
-      Ensure information used is credible.
-      Evaluate the result for reliability.
-      Decide appropriate mix of fishery dependent (landings, effort, etc.) information and fishery independent (surveys, samples etc.) information.

b)      Develop urchin larval surveys to be useful for assessment.

“Each transect began at mean low water (MLW) and continued perpendicular to shore to obtain a cross section of the sea urchin population as it varied with depth and distance from MLW.  Two divers would swim side-by-side, jointly holding the transect bar and counting the urchins as they passed under the bar.”

Shawn Robinson, Ph.D.

Attachment E



VII.  Sea Urchin Observations and Questions from Discussion

Aquaculture Techniques

Cues that can be used to trigger metamorphosis in hatchery.

Raising juveniles from settlement to size where can be planted in the wild.

Penning and holding urchins:  techniques, issues.

Assessment Techniques

Develop assessment collaboratively including setting purpose, design, and execution.

What is the value of counting urchins given the historic variability of stock?  Can it be useful in giving us a sustainable yield?

Prior to assessment design, decide purposes for assessment: 

-         To know how to make the most of what we have (catch per unit effort);

-         To assess roe value and market value;

-         To protect brood stock. 

What is a cost-effective assessment strategy given the length of the Maine coast?

Conduct multiple models of assessment rather than perfecting one.

Link the life history information to assessment and modify models, protocols as needed.

Would a larval survey provide ability to predict recruitment?

Assess all urchins larger than 3".

Standardize survey methods and measurements such as density measures with Canada.

Evaluate the current landings data collection and if necessary, improve the landings data:  quantity, location, time.

Relationship between landings and effort is skewed due to the fact that the fishery is managed by limiting the days fished. 

Would mandatory trip reports be advantageous?

Tag harvest like clam tags to provide better fishery information.

Collect information on catch per day, landings, and effort per day from fishermen for the years prior to 1994 when state started collecting effort information.


How do urchins actually move across the bottom?

What is the behavior of juvenile urchins to avoid predators, seek refuge?

Where do the urchins found in deep water come from?  At what stage?

Where in the water column are urchin larvae?

What is the relationship between population density and reproductive success?

Role of larger urchins in providing habitat for juveniles?

What is the right density for urchins?  For what?

Understand the spawning triggers to a degree that it is possible to predict the time of spawning.

What role do urchin clusters play in spawning success?

Why are there millions of small urchins in some locations?

Ecology, Species Interaction

Are lobsters or groundfish urchin predators?

Relative abundance of seaweeds, predators, and urchins at life stages.

Roe is more marketable on seaward side of islands:  Why?  Circulation, current, feed?

Impact of codium on kelp populations and implications for urchin populations.

Predators in macroalgae community.

Effectiveness of Management Measures

Evaluate effectiveness of closures for spawning and conservation.

Can small urchins be relocated effectively to non-productive areas where there is feed available?

Does penning and holding urchins work?

Would an oversize measure be useful?  Are large urchins successful reproducers?

Could you enhance reproduction by moving urchins close together at spawning?

Procedures for catch per unit effort and landing reports need to be examined for validity, accuracy, and bias.

Does taking the legal size urchin impact the ability of the population to produce large individuals?

Document effectiveness of reseeding on natural recruitment.

What is the appropriate scale of a conservation closure?  Logic is important for compliance -- whole island closures, etc.

What is the survival rate of culled urchins?  Is there a benefit to on-bottom culling?

Growth and Development

Better understanding of how fast urchins grow; age at size.

How long do urchins live?

Study of age distributions -- in New Brunswick some 14-15 year old animals.  Lubec Narrows, 4-6 year olds -- need systematic study.

What is the age/size relationship, and how does this vary depending on location?

How the rudiment is derived from earliest larva?

Growth at early post-settlement stage.

Cues that can be used to trigger metamorphosis in hatchery.

Impact of juvenile urchins' refuge-seeking behavior on growth and development.

What happens to juveniles that drift offshore?

Does settlement occur in deep water?


Conduct better analysis of dead urchins.

Capture and record anecdotal information about urchin die-offs to create a database as a start to disease management.

Develop a communications system for industry to tell DMR about die-offs.

Better health infrastructure needed:  disease surveillance, diagnostics, and health management plans. 

Both a "healthy" urchin and an urchin "die-off" need to be defined.

Do basic work to describe urchin diseases.

What is the risk of processing waste dumped at sea or in overboard discharge spreading disease?

Is there a correlation between population density and disease? 

Are there oceanographic phenomena that can be correlated to die-offs that can be used as predictors?

Do analysis of dead urchins.

Is there an urchin health benefit to culling on the bottom rather than from the boat?

Reconsider disease questions if reseeding efforts become widespread.

What role does stress play in urchin disease?  Does stress of moving in relocation efforts contribute to disease? 

What role does water quality, especially herbicide run-off, play in susceptibility to disease?

Relationship of algae blooms and urchin die-offs?

Do hatchery-raised urchins carry disease?

Build a network of information from industry on health observations and related environmental observations.

Impacts of Fishing/Human Activities

What is the impact of fishing techniques on urchin movement? 

Is it possible that draggers help clear the bottom (of kelp) and that this is beneficial?

Document the benefits of a diver's collector bag size limit. 

Assess impacts of dragging, dredging, and pollution on urchin health.

Documenting and evaluating culling mortality and its relationship to urchin health.

Urchin processing waste as a vector for disease.

Stress factors in moving urchins for reseeding.

Impacts of Aquaculture

Effects of leases on wild population.

Disease issues in urchin aquaculture.

Genetics issues in urchin aquaculture.

What are the effects on the wild stock of introducing hatchery stock into the wild?

What are the effects of introducing Nova Scotia urchins (or urchin waste) into Maine waters?


Find ways to resolve the contrast in pace between fishermen's action and research so that fishermen will participate.

Hold a workshop on assessment for fishermen, scientists, and managers about what an assessment can tell us. 

Develop a communications system for industry to notify DMR of die-offs, unhealthy urchins, and related environmental observations.

Interact with seaweed industry to reduce conflict and address valid concerns of both industries. Mutually beneficial action may be possible. 

Provide waterproof maps of closures to harvesters.

Make closures practical and understandable -- e.g. close an entire island instead of part of one.

Interest in community management where locals participate in stewardship of their own area in exchange for exclusive access - as a community not as private owners.  

Pace of research is not fast enough for fishermen who work on intuition, hunch -- how to mesh the two demands.


Where in the water column are urchin larvae?

What are the currents at those depths?

Urchins spawn during spring run-off.  Does the run-off drive juveniles out into the Maine Coastal Current?  Do the larvae from early spawners go different places than those from late spawners in a given area?

Are hurricanes and disease outbreaks correlated?

Impact of temperature, Gulf Stream rings on disease.


How can shelf life be extended?


Are large urchins competent reproductively?  Do they contribute to reproduction?

Research the relationship of urchin spacing and gonadal development on fertilization success.

What role do urchin clusters play in spawning success?

Reseeding Techniques

Develop collaborative reseeding experiments. 

What is the optimal time for release of hatchery raised small urchins?

-         Currents, temperature, predators.

Should hatcheries for reseeding be local to the area where the urchins will be seeded?

Need health check before moving urchins.

Does "nucleation" work -- clearing kelp from a small area and reseeding urchins to the area.  How big does the area need to be? Will the area spread? 

When is the optimal time for reseeding wild urchins? 

How important is it to relocate urchins to similar habitat (especially temperature) to avoid disease, enhance survival?

Does moving urchins cause stress that triggers disease outbreaks?

Socio-economic Issues

How can we change the market structure to reward quality?

Pros/cons of aquaculture vs. community management and enhancement.

Development of governance for community management.

Species Identification

Short-spined vs. long-spined.


Attachment A: 



May 11, 2000 at Orland Town Office 

51 Participants 

Richard Bubar                  P.O. Box 207, Stonington 04681                  367-2417
Jeannette Bubar               P.O. Box 207, Stonington 04681                  367-2417
Gordon J Gianninoto         P.O. Box 73, Sedgwick 04676                     359-2345
Seth Harkness                 R1 Box 439A Deer Isle 04627                      348-0908
Bill Sutter                        P.O. Box 109, Wiscasset 04578                  882-7230
Austin Humphries            P.O. Box 94, Perry 04667                            853-6694
Ivory Preston                   438 Roque Bluffs Rd., Machias 04654           255-8095
Bruce McInnis                 1 High Street, Eastport 04631                       853-4328
Adelbert Vinal Jr.             419 Glenmere Rd., Tenants Harbor               372-8181
Jamie Huntsberger           GSH1, Sunset 04683                                   266-2167
Cecil Cates                     138 Water St., Eastport 04631                      853-4423
Hank Stence                    RFD2, Box 5120, Lubec 04652                     733-4489
Ralph DeWitt                    9 High St., Eastport 04631                          853-0662
Michael Russell                Villanova University, PA 19085                     610-519-4695
Ted Creaser                     DMR, Boothbay Harbor                                633-9518
Bob Steneck                    UM Darling Marine Center, Walpole 04573    563-3146
Larry Harris                      UNH, Durham, NH  03824                            603-862-3897
Lindsay Seward                University of Maine, Orono                           581-2954
Bob Vadas                       University of Maine, Orono                           581-2974
Joe Dwyer                                                                                         567-3684
John Vavrinec                   UM Darling Marine Center, Walpole 04573    563-3146x304
Amanda Leland                 UM Darling Marine Center, Walpole 04573    563-3146x275
Rick Wahle                       Bigelow Lab, W. Boothbay Harbor 04575      633-9659
Jeffrey Alley                      P.O. Box 581, Winter Harbor 04693             963-7139
Chris Byers                      P.O. Box 581, Winter Harbor 04693             963-7139
Maggie Hunter                  DMR, Boothbay Harbor                               633-9541
Linda Mercer                    DMR, Boothbay Harbor                                633-9525
Tony Fitch                        Rockland                                                   273-5996
Tristan Smith                    RR3 Box 952, Belfast 04915                       338-4583
Rob Odlin                         175 Hancock St., So. Portland                    767-0796
Jim Bolen                         Friendship
Paul Molyneaux                Trescott                                                     733-5502
Jim Wadsworth                 P.O. Box 1005, Camden 04843                    763-4709
Shawn Robinson               St. Andrews, NB Canada EB5 229               506-529-8854
Darrin Gendron                  3 Pheasant Rd., Saco 04072                       282-4467
Paul Waterstrat                 DMR, Boothbay Harbor                               633-9500
Robert Thomas                  HC 33 Box 559A, Spruce Head 04859         594-0560
Dan Placzek                      37 Hillside Rd. Orono 04473                       866-3700
Jesse Leach                      N. Penobscot 04476                                   326-1723
Eric Gilliam                       273 Small Pt Rd, Phippsburg 04562             389-1723
L. Blair Pyne                     P.O. Box 208, Bremen                                529-5427
Terry Stockwell                 DMR, Boothbay Harbor                                633-9500
Randy Bacon                    Prospect Harbor                                          963-2686
Richard White                   Trenton                                                       667-7506
Atchan Tamaki                  P.O. Box 772, Portland 04104                      879-1575
Julia Soper                        312 Bethel Pt Rd, Harpswell                        729-8785
Dean Norris                       HC 60 Box 2715, E. Livermore 04228
Paul Anderson                   Sea Grant / UM Cooperative Extension        581-1435
Sue Inches                        DMR, Augusta                                           624-6558
Sherman Hoyt                   Sea Grant / UM Cooperative Extension         800-244-2104
Robin Alden                      PO Box 274, Stonington 04681                    367-2473 


Attachment B: 

Research Needs: Sea Urchin Disease and Health
Paul Waterstrat DVM, Ph.D., Maine Department of Marine Resources
Maine DMR Coastal Fishery Research Priority Meetings

May 11, 2000 

Disease plays a significant role in the population dynamics of all living organisms from humans to single-celled planktonic algae.  The effects of disease on marine resources and marine resource dependent industries include: direct mortality, increased rates of predation due to impaired performance, decreased reproductive effort and recruitment, decreases in product yield, quality, grade, safety and marketability, and finally decreased public perception and acceptance of both the seafood product and the industry. 

While “natural mortality” is a widely recognized factor in fisheries management, the

recognition and assessment of disease in wild populations is problematic.  There have been only limited efforts at disease surveillance in wild aquatic species.  Diagnostic assays and procedures are limited, making sampling difficult and expensive.  Little research funding exists for the development of diagnostic procedures, surveillance programs, or epidemiological investigations of disease outbreaks.  

The failure to implement and maintain disease surveillance and health management programs for fish and aquatic resources has lead to catastrophic mortality, significant economic loss and the collapse of such fisheries as herring, lobster, oysters, salmon and trout.  Treatment of wild, free-ranging aquatic species is rarely a management option.  Health management in these fisheries is dependent on prevention by either limiting disease exposure or by removing diseased animals to reduce disease transmission.  There has been limited or no research on developing predictive models for disease control in aquatic species, or for determining the effectiveness of management responses to disease outbreaks. 

Immediate needs for the maintaining the sustainability of Maine’s urchin industry include:

1)      Develop and implement a disease surveillance program.  Disease surveillance is essential so that disease control measures can be instituted before the disease becomes catastrophic.  Disease surveillance would also allow improved assessment of the urchin resource with respect to reproduction, recruitment and product quality.  Urchins are generally consumed raw, therefore a surveillance program may also address the increasing public concern over food safety issues associated with raw seafood products. 

2)      Improve diagnostic procedures for urchins.  Research efforts on urchin health have been limited so few procedures for urchin health assessment have been established.  Improved procedures and capability are essential to disease surveillance and health monitoring.

3)      Establish either voluntary or mandatory management practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease within the state. While protocols exist for the health inspection of hatchery urchin seed, regulatory procedures for intra-state transfer of wild urchin are ill defined.  This issue is critical to the transfer of urchins among beds or areas within the state. Implementation and documentation of surveillance and management programs are also essential in providing data to address the concerns of other fishing groups, the public and the media that the urchin industry is responsible and prudent in its utilization of a public resource.  Biosecurity issues associated with sea urchin processing are a growing concern to both state and federal agencies.  Improper disposal of wastes from imported urchins poses a disease risk. 

Health management of the urchin resource, like most aquatic species, lacks a coherent infrastructure for dealing with disease or health. These disease risks are significant and can threaten not only urchins but other fisheries resources as well. Urchins may act as vectors in disease transmission and many of the infectious agents associated with urchins can also affect other marine species.  Critical issues associated with developing a basic infrastructure are outlined below:

Infrastructure for disease surveillance:
-         Develop sampling protocols and plans
-         Develop, test and evolve where, when, how
-         Mechanism for reporting and epidemiological investigation 

Infrastructure for diagnostics and diagnostic labs:
-         Research to establish improved diagnostic procedures
-         Expertise, capability, quality control
-         Need basics now  

Infrastructure for health management:
-         Responsiveness is the goal
-         Development of action plans
-         Delegation of responsibility
-         Regulatory pathways developed and established 

Basic management practices (BMPs):
-         Surveillance 

-         Biosecurity

-     Waste management


Attachment C: 

Sea Urchin Management Issues
Robert Steneck, Ph.D., Darling Marine Center, University of Maine

Maine DMR Coastal Fishery Research Priority Meetings

May 11, 2000 

Are we harvesting sea urchins sustainably?  If not what are some of the consequences?   What are some of the possible solutions?  These questions frame my comments on management issues related to the sea urchin industry in Maine. 

Most harvesters polled by the Sea Urchin Zone Council (SUZC) believe that stocks are not being harvested sustainably.  This view is supported by Maine Department of Marine Resources' (DMR) fisheries dependent data.  That data shows a steady decline since 1993 in landings, catch per unit effort, and in number of licensed harvesters.  Similarly, fisheries independent data shows that the population density of urchins has declined statewide.  Specifically, both the number of urchins per unit area and the size of urchins have declined since the early 1990s.  Abundance declines occurred earlier and at a higher rate in the western most regions of Maine and occurred later and are less evident in eastern zones.  

One troubling correlate with the demographic declines is the observation that rates of settlement are declining statewide.  It is unknown if these declines are the result of a reduced reproductive potential (i.e. recruitment overfishing) or due to oceanographic events that have caused a decline in larval delivery in Maine's coastal zone.  If the latter process is controlling the decrease in decline, then this is not an issue that can be addressed by management.  Whatever the reason, if it continues, the long-term prognosis for the fishery is not good. 

Declines in urchin abundance have caused changes in the coastal ecosystem.  Sea urchins are the dominant grazer in coastal zones of the Gulf of Maine.  As urchin abundance and size declined, herbivory (eating of seaweeds) decreased.  With little or no grazing, seaweed (algal) biomass increased statewide.  Kelp forests and macroalgal carpets change the habitat characteristics of the ocean floor.  Living under the canopy of macroalgae are a variety of small invertebrates such as worms, baby crabs and sea fleas (amphipods).  Significantly, the survival of settling sea urchins declined dramatically in algal rich zones in western Maine.  Other regions of the coast that have experienced relatively modest increases of macroalgae have not (yet) had the high post-settlement mortality that has been recorded in Maine's western-most region.  Other studies have found that the invertebrates living under the algal canopy are micropredators of settling sea urchins.  Laboratory studies found that small crabs can and do eat newly settled urchins.  Further, micropredators' densities are as great at 200 per square meter under seaweed canopies but absent in heavily grazed urchin barren ground.  Thus it appears that fisheries induced declines in urchin abundance and size translates to improved habitat for micropredatory crabs that consume virtually all newly settled sea urchins within one year.  Since urchins cannot naturally reseed themselves in an environment rich with micropredators, then grazing will remain low and the system will remain stable in the macroalgal-dominated state. 

Possible Management Solutions: 

The Sea Urchin Zone Council (SUZC) has been aware of the urchin declines, ecosystem changes and micropredator impacts on settlers.  They have adopted a multi-tier strategy to respond to these changes.   

To reduce overfishing, effort has been reduced by first limiting entry into the fishery.  A new person can enter the fishery for every five that leave.  The number of fishable days has declined to 120 days and is discussing reducing the fishing days even further.  Stricter limits on enforcing existing regulations has been accomplished by using zone council funds to hire marine patrol officers to work overtime to catch and inhibit transgressors.

To determine how long it takes for unfished populations to recover, 6 regions were closed to fishing for scientists to monitor demographic changes over time.  The zone council approved research to examine changes to urchin settlement, survival, population density and biomass over time.  If changes in the ecosystem causes micropredator abundances to remain high in closed areas, it is unlikely that changes will occur unless the micropredator abundances are controlled.  

To reverse ecosystem change and micropredator abundance, the SUZC has proposed a reseeding study to graze down algae and eliminate cover for micropredators.  This sort of bioremediation could greatly increase the productivity of urchin stocks in seriously depleted areas.  If successful, there should be opportunities for the industry to fish areas that have recovered and are having successful settlement.   

To prevent a repeat in overfishing, the SUZC is considering rotational closures.   With such closures areas would be left unfished until stocks build up and then fished every 3 - 5 years depending upon growth rates.  Research on closed areas and the reseeding experiment are designed to guide management of rotational closures.  


Attachment D: 

Life History Considerations for Sea Urchin Stock Enhancement 
Larry G. Harris, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire

Maine DMR Coastal Fishery Research Priority Meetings

May 11, 2000 

Populations of the green sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, are in decline in the Gulf of Maine due to overexploitation.  Natural recruitment of sea urchins in depleted sections of the GOM is also declining, possibly due to reduced reproductive potential of remaining stocks.  Natural recovery of sea urchin populations in fished out areas will take years to decades since recruitment into recovered seaweed dominated communities is extremely low.  However, we know enough about the life history and ecology of sea urchins to suggest that recovery of populations can be increased for stock enhancement of natural populations and/or sea ranching.  What follows is a short description of how populations of sea urchins might be reestablished based on what is known of the life history and ecology of sea urchins.

Reproduction in the green sea urchin is highly seasonal in the GOM.  The gonads produce eggs or sperm through the fall and early winter and natural spawning begins in late winter and continues into spring.  Spawning urchins communicate by water born cues to synchronize release of gametes by localized populations to increase fertilization.  There is evidence that the spring phytoplankton bloom may stimulate spawning to coincide with maximum food availability for larval urchins.  Larval urchins or plutei remain in the water column for a month or more feeding on micro plankton.  Settlement of larvae to become juveniles begins in late May and continues through July.  Recruitment studies over the last six years suggest that recruitment is low in the northern portions of the GOM and high, but declining, in the southern portions of the Gulf.

Settling larval urchins will metamorphose on any hard substrate, but tend to show a preference for live coralline algal crusts.  Newly transformed urchins are about 0.5 mm in diameter and take about three weeks to complete the metamorphosis and begin feeding on the surface film that coats all marine surfaces.  Growth is highly variable among individuals, but it is about two months before individuals are capable of feeding on fleshy seaweeds.  The green urchin has well developed gonads by the time it is 25 mm in diameter, thought studies have shown that the larger a sea urchin is, the greater its reproductive potential.  Under ideal feeding conditions an urchin might reach the legal size of 52 mm in three years, but there can be wide variation in growth conditions in the field and most populations of urchins probably take between five and ten years to reach legal size.  If an urchin takes even five years to reach legal size, it will have reproduced at least a couple of times before it is harvested, though its reproductive potential will be less than larger individuals.  Green sea urchins may live from 30 to 50 years and their growth is highly variable and dependent on how much food is available.  I have seen no indication from laboratory growth experiments or field studies to indicate that there is a dwarf race of urchins in the Gulf of Maine.

Studies by K. H. Mann of Dalhousie University in the 1970's showed that recruitment of urchins was highest in newly formed urchin barrens in contrast to established barren communities and almost no recruitment occurred in kelp beds.  Larval urchins settle everywhere, but survival does appear to be best in areas of intermediate urchin densities.  Growth and roe content appears to be highest when there is abundant food and good water motion from tides, currents or surge.   Urchins also move very little when there is food available and tend to aggregate in mixed size groupings when there is an abundance of drift seaweed to trap and feed upon.

Enhancement of natural populations and restoration of depleted urchin stocks is possible, but the approaches will vary depending on where in the GOM the effort is to be undertaken.  Natural recruitment is much lower from Penobscot Bay north and higher to the south.  Recruitment of settling juveniles will be higher where intermediate densities of urchins remain to clear algal growth and reduce the densities of small predators. In depleted areas that have returned to seaweed dominated communities, addition of larger urchins is likely to be necessary to improve natural recruitment of juveniles.  Studies of the effectiveness of reseeding on natural recruitment would be most informative.

Hatchery systems to produce small urchins for out-planting are feasible and this approach has been used in Japan.  The techniques for spawning and raising larval urchins are well established, though scaling up to commercial scale production will require investments of effort and resources.  A more difficult problem will be the raising of juvenile urchins from settlement size of 0.5 mm up to a size where survival when seeded is reasonable.  The Japanese raise juveniles to about 20 - 25 mm before releasing them.  In the highly seasonal GOM, timing of release may be more important than size.  Warm water temperatures and predator abundance are likely to make summer seeding a poor risk.  Winter seeding when predators are mostly inactive has been shown to be much more effective.  Juveniles may be grown to 10 or more mm in less than a year and out planting of this sized urchin in the winter should result in high survival.

In summary, I would suggest that regional hatcheries using urchins adapted to local conditions could be used for stock enhancement and sea ranching of urchins.  A hatchery system would produce juveniles through the late winter and spring spawning period.  Juvenile grow out to about 10 mm is feasible over the next nine months and small urchins could be out-planted in the winter before the next spawning period.  Seeding will be most effective in areas with some populations of larger urchins already present to boost the potential survival of both winter seeded urchins and natural recruits the following summer.


Attachment E: 

Surveying for Sea Urchins in Southwestern New Brunswick
Shawn Robinson, Ph.D., Dept. Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) 
St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
Maine DMR Coastal Fishery Research Priority Meetings

May 12, 2000 

The sea urchin fishery, in southwestern New Brunswick in the Bay of Fundy, initially developed as an additional source of product for the industry based in the United States.  Small landings (1-2 tons) occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s just before the Christmas season on Campobello, but the industry did not really develop until 1987.  The majority of the harvesting effort in the area has been with the use of drags, although the number of diving-based operations has increased to almost 50%.  In 1994 the drag fishery switched from using scallop drags to a lighter gear known as the “Green” drag.  Landings have steadily risen from 47 tons in 1987 to a peak of 1,900 tons in 1996 and have subsequently dropped to 1,709 tons in 1999.  The value has increased from less than $16,000 during this period to over $4 million.  The fishery is regulated through limited entry, size limits, seasons, time of harvesting, gear restrictions, sorting catch at sea, statistical reporting through a logbook program, protected areas for scientific research, sanctions and dockside monitoring with individual non-transferable quotas.  One area uses a total TAC with an individual cap on landings.

Urchin population surveys are a key part of urchin management in New Brunswick.  Prior to starting large-scale surveys of the Quoddy region and Grand Manan, preliminary information on the sea urchin populations was gathered from several sources in order to design the sampling protocol.  Information was collated on sea urchin densities from the surveys of Neish (1973) and MacKay (1976, 1979).  Information from logbooks was used to determine the location of the existing important commercial beds.  In addition, individual fishermen were interviewed confidentially and their information was used to better define areas that should be surveyed. All this information was used in conjunction with the local knowledge of the Invertebrate Fisheries Section at the DFO Biological Station at St. Andrews, NB, to classify sections of the coastline into high, medium, or low priority.  The entire coastline of the study areas was divided into 250-meter (m) intervals as potential transects.  Transects were randomly assigned in each section of coastline and the number of transects per section was based on the length of the section and the weighted importance factor of high:medium:low (4:2:1).  For example, a high importance section would receive four times as many transects as a low importance section of the same size.

The transect apparatus consisted of a collapsible two-meter bar with 150 meters of 3/16" nylon transect rope wound on a centred rotating spool.  The line was divided into one-meter increments with markers and had increment tags every ten meters.  The bar would collapse and the rotating spool had an attached handle to facilitate rewinding the survey line at the conclusion of each transect.

Each transect began at mean low water (MLW) and continued perpendicular to shore to obtain a cross section of the sea urchin population as it varied with depth and distance from MLW.  Two divers would swim side-by-side, jointly holding the transect bar and counting the urchins as they passed under the bar. The transect continued for a distance of 150 meters or to a maximum depth of 25 m (75 ft). On a few occasions the dives continued to 33 m (100 ft) when visibility was adequate and the urchin populations remained interesting.  Completing a transect took approximately one hour and occasionally exceeded one and a half hours when counting became difficult with high urchin numbers, or when heavy seaweed cover was encountered.  Landmarks were noted for each transect location so that each one could be repeated at later dates for continued stock information.

Each diver counted the number of sea urchins one meter out from the transect line and recorded the total number after each ten meter section.  At the conclusion of each 10m section, observations on relative sea urchin size, water depth, bottom type, macrophyte composition, and other commercially important benthic species were recorded.  Upon completion of each transect, four collections of 100 urchins each were made at intervals along the transect to best indicate the changing population characteristics with depth.  An effort was made to collect all the animals from a particular area in order to avoid biasing the estimate of the population size structure.  The four collections of sea urchins were then returned to the vessel where they were measured for test diameter to the nearest millimeter with a specially designed measuring board.

This survey technique was used both in 1992-93 and in 1994 to survey the coastline.  Certain reference transects in key areas were chosen to re-survey in subsequent years using the same technique.  The results of this type of surveying technique enable us to get a much better picture of the size ranges of animals from populations and also a very good estimate of numbers of animals less than 1 inch.  The surveys also showed how there were changes in numbers of animals along the shore as well as a dramatic decrease of urchins with depth.  The survey allowed us to calculate the numbers and weight of animals within a zone and from this we were able to calculate a standing stock of sea urchins within a management area.  Once we had this, we could then set an exploitation rate (3-6% annually of the harvestable biomass).

The benefits to this type of work are:

      1)      It is a much more accurate way of looking at the population characteristics. 
2)      It gets the fishermen involved in managing local sea urchin populations. 
3)      It supplements the information received from fishing logs.
4)      It allows for comparisons to be made between years. 
5)      It allows for initial calculation of total allowable catches.
6)      It allows for further work to be done at the same time. 

The perceived drawbacks of this type of work are: 

1)      There is a significant cost to getting this information.
2)       It requires the support of the industry (both moral and logistic) 
3)      It needs to be done on a semi regular basis.
4)      There needs to be a center for organization, collating and storage of the data. 

In our experience, the drawbacks can be relatively easily overcome.


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