With the decline in several other sea urchin fisheries around the world, there now exists a good opportunity to develop a large and valuable fishery for purple and red sea urchins in NSW. In addition, there is also interest in the further development of the purple urchin fishery near Mallacoota in eastern Victoria, and the white urchin fishery in Port Phillip Bay. This interest is evidenced in both NSW and Victoria by substantial capital investment in factories to process sea urchins and their roe. If these urchin fisheries could be further developed within an appropriate management framework, it could also lead to significant benefits for the abalone fishery, particularly in NSW, because of the interaction between the two species.
Because of the limited development of this fishery to date, it provides an ideal opportunity to assess stocks of sea urchins prior to any major depletion by fishing. Sampling techniques have already been developed for sea urchins in barren habitats, and could easily be transferred to habitats where commercial fishing will be concentrated. Such assessments may be particularly important considering the evidence from other urchin fisheries, where large virgin stocks have been rapidly depleted with only low rates of recovery from the recruitment of juveniles.
Preliminary information from NSW suggests a large proportion of the sea urchin population does not contain high quality roe. Unless high quality roe can be reliably collected, the costs of processing sea urchins may restrict development of the fishery. Two main techniques have been used in other fisheries to improve the supply of food to sea urchins on reefs, and hence the quality of roe that can be harvested. If these techniques could be adapted for sea urchins in NSW, significant improvements in yield and value would be possible. Further, as the simple, large scale removals are already being used in the industry, there is also a need to detect their impacts on other species.