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Availability of California Sea Urchin

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California Sea Urchin (uni), Catalina Offshore Products.

People often ask us when California Sea Urchin (or uni) is in season. We’re quite lucky in California to have access to this beloved product year-round! Still, demand for uni often far exceeds supply, especially when dealing with California sea urchin. Here’s why…

Uni refers to the edible gonads of the sea urchin. Yep, you read that correctly, in case you didn’t know. And it’s considered a delicacy throughout the world, which explains the year around demand. But why California sea urchin (uni) specifically?

Why Is California Sea Urchin So Special?

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Southern California kelp forest. Image by Dave Rudie.

California uni is especially sought after for its flavor and texture, a uniqueness credited to water temperature and the kelp California sea urchins feed on. Along with providing shelter, kelp forests serve as a primary food source for sea urchins and thousands of other invertebrates, fish, and marine mammal species. Healthy kelp forests result in well fed sea urchins and high-quality uni! 

Unfortunately, demand sometimes outweighs our supply of California sea urchin. It’s currently estimated that more than 90 percent of the kelp forests have disappeared along the Northern California coast. This is due to several contributing factors, including an unprecedented marine heat wave occurring in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. When there is less kelp for urchins to feed on, their gonads don’t grow, which means there is less high quality uni available on the market.

The commercial red sea urchin fishery in our home state of California is open every week, year-round. Changes in regulations occur from June 1 to November 1, limiting harvesting to five days a week, but otherwise, divers may go out any time when conditions are good.

As a top supplier of high-quality uni, we look to other markets when California sea urchins are in short supply. These include urchin fisheries in the Pacific Northwest as well as Canada and Mexico. Each fishery is governed by different regulations in terms of length of season and catch quotas.

While it’s always good to have additional sources, these markets also compete against our local California sea urchins. For example, Mexico’s red sea urchin fishery opens in July and runs until mid-February or early March. During these months there is a surplus of uni in the U.S. due to imports from Mexico, and that drives down prices for our local fishermen.

One thing is certain, we here at Catalina Offshore Products do our very best to have the best quality uni available as often as harvests allow – no matter if we harvest it from Southern California or source it elsewhere!

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