Harvesting sea urchins may have extra benefits

Dr John Keane, of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, who will lead a sea urchin study.

Dr John Keane, of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, who will lead a sea urchin study.

HARVESTING sea urchins and exporting them to Asia could help reduce the damage they cause to Tasmanian oceans.

A three-year study is under way to determine whether commercial fishing could control the population of the long-spined urchin.

Dr John Keane, from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, will lead the study.

He said sea urchins have moved into Tasmania over the past 30 years and are found as far south as the Tasman Peninsula, and graze on everything, right down to bare rocks.

"If a commercial fishery can lower urchin densities to a level that will prevent further barren formation and even promote habitat restoration, it will significantly benefit Tasmanian coastal ecosystems and the commercial fisheries that rely on them," Dr Keane said.

He said commercial fisherman had been harvesting urchins since 2009, and in the past three years more than 600,000 have been caught off north-eastern Tasmania.

The urchin is most common in waters off St Helens, and Dr Keane said fisherman embarked on dedicated urchin fishing trips, and collect up to 800 kilograms a day.

The urchins are then processed and packaged at St Helens and shipped to Asia.

Dr Keane will also examine what impact the urchins have on rock lobster and abalone.

"Control of long-spined sea urchin populations has potential benefit for the lucrative rock lobster and abalone fisheries by sustaining healthy reef ecosystems," he said.

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