TED Case Studies

Sea Urchin Fishery and Overfishing (URCHIN Case)


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CASE NUMBER: 296

CASE MNEMONIC: URCHIN

CASE NAME: Sea Urchin Fishery and Overfishing

I. Identification

1. The Issue

The increased demand in sea urchins, whose roe is a Japanese sushi ingredient, is causing the problem of overfishing in California. Sea Urchins, regarded as "pests" until now because they feed on kelp, are now California's largest export item from the ocean, thanks to the steady demand from Asia. A sea urchin,a simple ball of spines from outside, has the roe, or "uni," inside, which is a delicacy in Japanese sushi bars. Sea urchin fisheries started in the States in 1971 with a federal program to foster them, but the business became more and more profitable recently as the yen began to rise against the dollar. Today, there is a certain "gold-rush mentality," with approximately 500 licensed sea urchin divers in California. While factors other than fishing,such as warm ocean currents and stormy winters, affect the sea urchin population, those in the industry say that they have the most to lose in the long run from overfishing. The California Department of Fish and Game has come up with several proposals for quotas, none of which satisfied the industry. Most significantly,there is no consensus on the size of a sustainable amount of "principal." A fast solution is needed as California's harvest is already showing the signs of decline.

2. Description

Because the Japanese have been fishing extensively in their waters for hundreds of years, and because the catch there is seasonal, many of Japan's sea urchins are imported from the United States these days.

(1)Sea Urchin and Marine Environment From the outside, a sea urchin--an obscure cousin of the starfish--looks like a simple ball of spines, with some variation in size and color among different species. But the inside is what counts: the roe is a delicacy in Japanese sushi bars. The roe, called "uni," is eaten raw, often on a small pad of seaweed-wrapped rice. Its color ranges from brownish yellow to orange, and the texture resembles a firm, slightly grainy custard.

(2) It has a sweet, tangy flavor akin to lobster. Until the early 1970s, sea urchins were regarded as pests because they feed on kelp, for which there is also a market. Kelphas long been recognized as a valuable fertilizer,soil-conditioner and growth promoter. It encourages the uptake of natural minerals. Also, for the last 20 some years kelp has been used as a source of alginates to produce gelling and thickeners. In this form it helps keep orange juice in suspension and maintains the frothy head on Irish stout. The demand for natural ingredients for cosmetics has also helped build up orders for kelp. Thus, kelp is even put into ice cream and cosmetics.

(3) The kelp forests along the coast of California also provide shelter and food for hundreds of fish species and dozens of marine mammals. Thousands of sea birds then feed on the marine life, while millions of juvenile fish find shelter from predators within the protective canopy of kelp. The kelp forests furthermore perform a service similar to coral -- protecting the beaches from erosion by acting as a breakwater for the massive ocean swells that would devastate the beaches that are so important to the marine environment. During the 1960s, the entire kelp forest in southern California was threatened because the sea urchin population was so dense. The California Department of Fish and Game and Los Angeles County once declared the sea urchin a menace that needed to be destroyed. Thousands of sport divers were recruited, given hammers and released en masse upon the reefs. Kelp companies were smashing them with hammers, killing them with quicklime. They would have contests, to see who could gather the biggest mound of urchins, and then they would take the mound and bulldoze them. In addition to the hammering, thousands of pounds of the chemical "Quick Lime"were dumped on the reefs that were the most heavily infested.

(4)Sea Urchin Roe Market: All this changed as the yen began to rise against the dollar, and roe exports to Japan became more and more profitable. As sea urchin harvests in Japan decreased yearly from approximately 24,000 metric tons (MT) in 1981 to approximately 14,000 MT in 1991, down more than 40% in ten years, Japanese imports of sea urchin and sea urchin products during the period 1988 through 1993 increased over 65% from 9,000 MT (CIF USD 180 million) to approximately 15,000 MT (CIF USD 307 million).

Table 1: Sea Urchin Harvests in Japan (metric tons)

1981 1991
24,000 14,000

Table 2: Japan's Imports of Sea Urchin and Sea Urchin (metric tons)

1988 1993
9,000 15,000

Today, of 23 export countries, the U.S. exports the largest quantities to Japan: U.S. sea urchin roe (estimated 3,200 MT in wet roe weight) is believed to share more than 30% of the 10,000 MT market for the total of sea urchin roe products in Japan. In 1993,the U.S. exported 6,461 MT (CIF USD 149 million) of live, fresh roe, frozen roe, and other processed roe, followed by:

Russia:2,183 MT (USD 11 million),

Canada: 1,417 MT (USD 23 million),

North Korea: 1,380 MT (USD 10 million),

the Republic of Korea: 1,320 MT(USD 63 million),

Chile: 1,318 MT (USD 23 million), and

China:1,077 MT (USD 20 million).

Table 3: Sea Urchin-Related Exports (live, fresh roe, frozen roe, and other processed roe) to Japan in

1993 Metric Tons US$ Millions
US 6,461 149
Russia 2,183 11
Canada 1,417 23
North Korea 1,380 10
South Korea ,320 63
Chile 1,318 23
China 1,077 20

Also, U.S.'s 1993 sea urchin roe import market share in Japan was 48.5%, followed by:

Republic of Korea: 20.6%;

Canada: 7.6%;

Chile: 7.4%;

China: 6.6%;

North Korea: 3.9%;

Russia: 3.6%;

and Others (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia,Philippines, Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand): 1.8%.

Table 4: Sea Urchin Roe Import Market Share in Japan in 1993

Country Share %
US 48.5%
South Korea 20.6%
Canada 7.6%
Chile 7.4
China 6.6%
North Korea 3.9
Russia 3.6%
Others 1.8%


U.S. sea urchin roe is well accepted by a wide range of Japanese market sectors-- processors, supermarket chains, and high-class sushi bars. Apart from Japanese domestic products (which are always considered to be superior to any imported products), the Japanese industry generally considers the quality of sea urchin roe processed and shipped from Los Angeles to be the best, for what ever reason, followed by those from the Russian far east, and other locations in California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Canada, Chile,the Republic of Korea, and China.

(5)Sea Urchin Industry in California: Due to the intense demand for U.S. sea urchin roe in Japan, today the creature is so aggressively hunted that U.S.officials and scientists are beginning to worry that the Japanese appetite is endangering the sea urchin supply. In California, it is now the largest export item from the ocean, valued at over 75 million dollars per year, most of which comes from Japan.

(6) There are an estimated 10,000 or more people who provide income for their families either directly or indirectly from the sea urchin industry in the state of California.

(7) The state has approximately 500 sea urchin divers, who must be licensed and must pick urchins above a 3 1/4 inch (8.25 cm) limit. There is also a limit on the number of days when picking is allowed in the mild summer months. However,there are currently no quotas on harvests, and some would like to see that change.

(8) Sea urchin Industry in Maine: It was also the sea urchin industry that saved the economy of the Northeast Coast after the collapse of the timber and salmon industries. The sea urchin season in Japan lasts only from April to September, but most urchins are consumed for holiday festivities in December and January. The sea urchin season in Maine lasts from September until March, providing a cold-weather replacement supply for Japan and a new seasonal catch for Maine lobstermen when the lobster catch slows down.

(9) Maine, the largest supplier on the U.S. East Coast, harvested 30 million to 40 million pounds in 1993,doubling the amount in just two years. And for the first time in the state's history, the urchin harvest may surpass even Maine's famous lobster. The industry is booming, so much so that many fishermen are taking their harvests indiscriminately in giant nets and dumping thousands of undersized urchins on shore. Divers--about 2,000 of them--unsatisfied with gathering top-quality urchin from shallow waters, or finding them depleted from overfished areas, are delving deeper, harvesting urchin whose eggs should be undisturbed to replenish beds.

(10) And now there are the first signs of calamity, with vast underwater reefs that once were blanketed with urchins suddenly bare. Prices of Sea Urchin Roe: Meanwhile, the Japanese are paying millions for the delicacy. The prices of freshly picked sea urchin roe range between 50 cents and $1 per pound in summer, and can be as high as$2 a pound during winter months, when demand peaks for major Japanese holidays such as New Year's Day.

(11) In 1993, in California, processors paid fishermen about $18 million for the year's catch. The roe then could bring 50 times that on the Japanese auction block--Wholesale prices at central wholesale markets in Japan generally range from $30-90/lb, depending on quality.

(12) As long as processors and the Japanese are paying such prices, divers will keep harvesting them regardless of damage to supply. The number of urchin divers and dredgers has soared in Maine, doubling over the past two years to over 2,000. For some,fishing for urchin is a way to make up for dwindling catches of haddock and other groundfish restricted by federal regulations.

(13) Problem of Overfishing in California/Maine Sea Urchin Industry and Possible Solutions: Eight years ago in Maine, there was no urchin industry. Then the boom hit. According to state figures, in 1987, fishermen caught and sold 1.4 million pounds (0.63 million kg) for$236,391. By 1992 the catch had ballooned to 26.5 million pounds(12 million kg) sold for $15.4 million. The state has proposed regulations to control the harvest and protect the supply,stimulating a terrible outcry from some fishermen. They see it as an assault on jobs; they do not see that the choice may be between many jobs now and none later.

(14) The California Department of Fish and Game has come up with several proposals for quotas, none of which satisfied the industry. An individual quota system based on previous years' catches might favor fishermen who have picked as many sea urchins as possible over those who carefully picked smaller loads of higher quality. Still, California's Department of Fish & Game restricted in 1988 the number of days divers are allowed out; introduced size limits on urchins; and cut back, from a peak of 915, the number of diving permits issued, to about 575 (the goal is to reach 400).

(15) However, there is no consensus on the size of a sustainable amount of "principal." Whether it is due to the cap or due to the overfishing, California's total harvest has declined. In 1988, its peak year, the statewide catch was 50 million pounds, while the catch in 1994 was slightly less than half that.

(16) Maine began requiring urchin permits only in 1992 and is considering following California's lead in capping the number of permits issued. Ted Creaser, a biologist with Maine's Department of Marine Resources at Boothbay Harbour, and others are saying that urchin regulations set by states on the U.S. East Coast need to be tightened like those of the West Coast or stocks will plunge like the severe reductions in haddock and cod populations off Newfoundland's Grand Banks. But processors are already lobbying to do away with restricted months for harvesting and big-yield sleds or dredgers are gaining in popularity.

(17) Lawrence Harris, a marine biologist at the University of New Hampshire, has proposed a four-year study of the urchin to examine ways to protect and sustain the population.(18) The Japanese sea urchin industry is also concerned with the future productivity of the product in existing U.S. fishing grounds due to extensive fishing activities, but the Japanese government so far imposes no import quota on sea urchin.

(19) Currently, two methods of fish culture are under consideration in Japan. One rears fry to maturity, while the other fosters fry until they are able to fend for themselves in the open sea. Sea urchins are thought to be possibly raised the latter way with a successful catch rate, since they are largely stationary.

(20) In fact, in Chile, sea urchins are cultivated under environmentally-controlled conditions for export to Japan.

(21)

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SALMON Case

MAGNUSON Case

SHRIMP Case

SHRIMP2 Case

TURBOT Case

SALMON2 Case

Key Word Clusters (1): Trade Product = URCHIN (2): Bio-geography = OCEAN (3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Sea

4. Draft Author:

Tetsuko Hirai, 29 April 1996 Note Date

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and INPROGress

The California Department of Fish and Game has come up with several proposals for quotas, none of which satisfied the industry. There is no consensus on the size of a sustainable amount of "principal," either. Maine began requiring urchin permits in 1992 and is considering following California's lead in capping the number of permits issued, but processors are lobbying to do away with restricted months for harvesting.

6. Forum and Scope:

USA and UNILATeral Although the Japanese government could impose some import quotas on sea urchin, the most direct forum to which this case applies will be the United States, particularly the California and Maine state governments.

7. Decision Breadth:

1 (USA) This case will have a legal impact only on the United States, although it could indirectly influence the Japanese sea urchin market.

8. Legal Standing:

SUBLAW The legal agreement on this case will be in the form ofsublaws--laws or regulations--that are not at the country level but of a state level (California and Maine).

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: North America [NAMER]

b. Geographic Site: Western North America [WNAMER]

c. Geographic Impact: USA

10. Sub-National Factors:

YES The appropriate sub-country level of jurisdiction in this case will be California and Maine.

11. Type of Habitat:

OCEAn

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:

REGULATORY STANDARD In California, sea urchin divers must be licensed and must pick urchins above a 3 1/4 inch (8.25 cm) limit. There is also a limit on the number of days when picking is allowed in the mild summer months. However, there are currently no quotas. The California Department of Fish and Game has come up with several proposals for quotas, but none of them has satisfied the industry. An individual quota system based on previous years' catches might favor fishermen who have picked as many sea urchins as possible over those who carefully picked smaller loads of higher quality. Most significantly, there is no consensus on the size of a sustainable amount of "principal." Meanwhile, the state of Maine has also proposed regulations to control the harvest and protect the supply, stimulating a terrible outcry from some fishermen. Maine began requiring urchin permits only in 1992 and is considering following California's lead in capping the number of permits issued.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:

DIRect The impact of this case on trade is direct, because it will by itself affect the practices of the sea urchin industry.

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: YES -URCHIN

b. Indirectly Related to Product: NO

c. Not Related to Product: NO

d. Related to Process: YES - Species Loss Sea

15. Trade Product Identification:

Sea Urchin Roe (live, fresh roe,frozen roe, and other processed roe)

16. Economic Data

The total output of the sea urchin industry is approximately 149 million US dollars, and the industry employs a total of more than 12,000 people in California and Maine.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:

MEDIUM

18. Industry Sector:

FOOD

19. Exporters and Importers:

USA and Japan

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type:

Species Loss [SPLS] Due to overfishing, California's total harvest of sea urchin has largely declined. In 1988, its peak year, the statewide catch was 50 million pounds, while the catch in 1994 was slightly less than half that.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus Droebachiensis & Strongylocentrotus Franciscanus)

Type: Echinoidea

Diversity: N/A

22. Resource Impact and Effect:

Medium and Scale

23. Urgency and Lifetime:

Medium and 1-3 years (?)

24. Substitutes:

CONSerVation efforts (Fish Culture?)

Although nothing seems to possibly be substituted for sea urchin roe, Japan is trying a few methods of fish culture to produce more sea urchins artificially. One of such methods will foster fry until they are able to fend for themselves in the open sea, and the mostly-stationary sea urchins will be captured when they are big enough to meet the state regulation that the roe weighs 10 percent of the total body weight. In Chile, sea urchins are already being cultivated under environmentally-controlled conditions for export to Japan.

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:

YES

Sea urchin roe is a delicacy in Japanese sushi restaurants. The roe, called "uni," is eaten raw, often on a small pad of seaweed-wrapped sushi rice. However, there is no superstitious value (for example, curative or energizing properties) attached to it; the Japanese just enjoy its texture and taste. This is not something that started recently, but the fact that the Japanese have been fishing extensively in their waters for hundreds of years; that the catch there is seasonal; and that the exchange rate has been favorable towards the Japanese yen, has resulted in today's situation where many of Japan's sea urchins are imported from the U.S.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues:

NO

27. Rights:

NO

28. Relevant Literature

Asakawa, Tomohiro. "The Sea Urchin Market in Japan." A report prepared by the author for American Embassy in August 1994,reprinted in Market Reports 21 March 1995. California Sea Urchin Harvesters' Association. Obtained on the World Wide Web .

"Farming Is Rising to High Place in Chilean Fisheries." Fish Farming International v19n1 (January 1992): 2.

Gardner, Christine. "Japanese Demand Endangers New England Sea Urchins." Reuters World Service 3 February 1994.

Kleiman, Dena. "Scorned at Home, Maine Sea Urchin Is a Star in Japan." New York Times 3 October 1990: C1.

Levitan, Don R., Mary A. Sewell, and Fu-Shiang Chia. "How Distribution and Abundance Influence Fertilization Success in the Sea Urchin Strongylocentrotus Franciscanus." Ecology v73n1 (February 1992): 248-254.

Mattson, Eric. "Japanese Hooked on Sea Urchins From California."Los Angeles Times 8 September 1987: Metro, part 2, 1.

Munk, Nina. "Choppy Waters." Forbes 25 October 1993: 108."Still Learning Some Natural Lessons." Chicago Tribune 9 September 1992: Editorial section, 18.

"The Tide Turns for an Ancient Crop: Seaweed Harvesting Industry." Guardian 26 July 1991.

Twaronite, Lisa. "A Taste for Sea Urchins: Sushi Delicacy Spawns U.S. Export Industry." International Herald Tribune 9 October 1995:Feature section.

Uehara, Yoshihiro. "Bluefin Wanderlust Foils Tuna Farmers; With the future looking bleak for fishermen, hatcheries are striving to tame the big tuna." Nikkei Weekly 20 September 1993: 24.

"Urchins Compete with Maine Lobsters." Sea Frontiers January-February 1986: 65.
Endnotes

(1) Eric Mattson. "Japanese Hooked on Sea Urchins From California." Los Angeles Times 8 September 1987: Metro, part 2, 1.

(2) Lisa Twaronite. "A Taste for Sea Urchins: Sushi Delicacy Spawns a U.S. Export Industry." International Herald Tribune 9 October 1995.

(3) "The Tide Turns for an Ancient Crop: Seaweed Harvesting Industry." Guardian 26 July 1991.

(4) California Sea Urchin Harvesters' Association.

(5) Tomohiro Asakawa. "The Sea Urchin Market in Japan." A report prepared by the author for American Embassy in August 1994,reprinted in Market Reports 21 March 1995.

(6) Twaronite.

(7) California Sea Urchin Harvesters' Association.

(8) Twaronite.

(9) Dena Kleiman. "Scorned at Home, Maine Sea Urchin Is a Star in Japan." New York Times 3 October 1990: C1.

(10) Christine Gardner. "Japanese Demand Endangers New England Sea Urchins." Reuters World Service 3 February 1994.

(11) Twaronite.

(12) California Sea Urchin Harvesters' Association.

(13) Gardner.

(14) Gardner.

(15) Nina Munk. "Choppy Waters." Forbes 25 October 1993: 108.

(16) Twaronite.

(17) Gardner.

(18) Gardner.

(19) Asakawa.

(20) Yoshihiro Uehara. "Bluefin Wanderlust Foils Tuna Farmers."Nikkei Weekly 20 September 1993: 24.


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