Maine Seafood Guide – Sea Urchin
Green sea urchin Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis
also known as uni
Wild. Research efforts to culture sea urchins are ongoing, but no commercial cultured product is currently available.
Green sea urchins are Echinoderms, a group of marine invertebrates that also includes starfish, sea cucumbers, sea lilies, and brittle stars. Green sea urchins are covered with short, dense spines and are filled with five sections of creamy, bright yellow-orange reproductive structures—this is the edible part. Urchins live in shallow, rocky subtidal waters where they graze on kelp and other algae and invertebrates.
September – March, with a peak in winter. Commercial harvest seasons vary slightly by zone.
Maine’s sea urchin fishery experienced a boom and bust cycle in the 1990s that has evened out in recent years, although populations are doing better in eastern Maine. The urchin fishery continues to be closely managed with restrictive harvesting rules.
Most (60%) fishermen collect urchins by SCUBA diving and collecting the spiky creatures into net bags. The rest use drags to scoop urchins off the sea floor. See the vessel and gear guide for more information.
Sea urchin is a low-calorie source of protein and omega-3s, and contains some fat and cholesterol. Sea urchin vulnerability to red tide is unknown. Confirm freshness and storage conditions if purchased frozen or preserved.
Urchin is served fresh and uncooked (“uni”). It is also used in soups, custards, and other seafood dishes as a flavor enhancer. High-quality uni is yellow, gold, or orange in color with a sweet, ocean-like taste and a smooth, buttery texture. Avoid product that appears dull or discolored, grainy or loose. Poor quality is indicated by a watery appearance or bitter taste. Cleaned, packaged uni is sometimes soaked in an alum-salt solution.
Maine Department of Marine Resources sea urchin page.