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Commercial and recreational marine fisheries

Commercial sea urchin fishery

About the sea urchin fishery:

The sea urchin fishery is an artisanal dive fishery, which targets red sea urchins, Mesocentrotus franciscanus, which are hand harvested, using an urchin rake. Small boats with multiple divers make single day trips and the sea urchins are shipped live to processing facilities in neighboring states then sold domestically.

The West Coast sea urchin fishery began in California in the early 1970s. Prior to the availability of fishery markets, sea urchins were often destroyed and/or removed in California to protect kelp resources. In the 1980’s, a strengthening Japanese economy demanded sea urchins. A good yen/dollar exchange rate combined with dwindling Asian supplies made North America’s sea urchins a suddenly valuable resource. The West Coast fishery boomed in California, then shortly after began in Oregon.

Sea urchins were first harvested in Oregon in Port Orford in 1986, landings quickly escalated and peaked at 9.3 million pounds in 1990. During peak years sea urchins were processed and packed in Oregon, but in most other years they have been exported. Virgin stocks were quickly reduced which resulted in a diminished fishery; by 1996 the fishery boom was over, from 1996 to 2015, fishery landings stabilized, currently characterized by a small number of divers harvesting about a half million pounds of red sea urchins a year.

Some purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) have been targeted, but account for less than 1% of the 43 million pounds of sea urchins which have been harvested from Oregon since 1986.

California sea cucumbers are also covered by this permit, though harvest of this species has been minimal.

Harvest methods:

Sea urchins are harvested by divers, using surface supplied air. Sea urchins are picked out with rakes and measured to ensure legal size. Divers store urchins in brailer nets and lift them to the surface using float bags.

Fishery management

Resource management for sea urchins focuses on preserving high density areas for spawning in reserve areas, and also allowing them multiple reproductive opportunities before they can be legally harvested.

Key regulations include:

  • Sea urchins cannot be taken in water depths shallower than 10 feet mean lower low water
  • Each diver must have a limited entry Oregon sea urchin/ sea cucumber permit.
  • Each diver must keep a logbook and return it to ODFW in each month sea urchins are harvested
  • Orford reef is closed from May 1 to October 31
  • Several areas such as marine gardens, research areas, and marine reserves are closed to harvest
  • Red sea urchins must be 3 ½ inches or larger in shell diameter (not including spines)
  • No mixed gas (e.g. Nitrox) diving is allowed, only atmospheric air may be used


Kendall Smith- Marine Resources Program, Charleston
Phone: (541) 435-4495



urchin harvest

urchin boat

Sea urchin boats in Port Orford, OR

diver at Orford reef

Urchin diver at Orford reef, OR


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