National

City's plan to farm sea urchins may make Japanese delicacy available in offseason

Kyodo

The city of Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, has been working on a project to farm sea urchins, an expensive delicacy, by making use of cabbage thrown out by supermarkets.

The project is aimed at securing a new source of income for local fisheries when they are not harvesting wild sea urchins, which grow by eating seaweed and come into season between April and July.

Natural sea urchins do not grow well in winter as there is not much fresh seaweed. A fishery cooperative from the city’s Ohata area that usually halts sea urchin operations in winter is participating in the project.

“We want to create a new business model that can give hope for fishery operators,” said Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita.

The challenge started after officials learned about the idea of cultivating sea urchins with cabbage during a visit to the Kanagawa Prefecture Fisheries Technology Center in Miura last June.

The edible interior lobe of the sea urchin, a small, creature with a round prickly shell usually found on the seabed, is among the most popular items for sushi.

After carrying out an experiment between September and December, the city and the fishery cooperative learned that sea urchins raised using leafy vegetables were almost equivalent to those collected in high season — and they also tasted good.

The farmed urchins contained amino acids such as glycine and methionine, which make up the seafood’s characteristic savory flavor.

Officials are hopeful they can start putting cultivated sea urchins on the market during the offseason as soon as this year.

The city received favorable feedback on the vegetable-fed urchins when it held a tasting party earlier this year.

“In the future, we want to expand the scale of the farming and make it a tourist attraction,” said Kazuo Tachibana, head of the Mutsu Municipal Government’s Ohata Office.

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