Delicacies are delicacies partly because they’re rare, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The sea urchins in French Mediterranean waters are getting rarer because too many of them are being gobbled up by poachers and recreational fishermen. This is the position both of scientists who have studied the fishery and of (legal) commercial fishermen who depend on the resource.
Therefore, Regional management authorities in Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Alpes-Maritimes have agreed to stronger management measures, and authorities in Corsica are expected to follow suit after more discussion there before the end of 2023. The (legal) fishery has been operating from November 1st to the following April 15th, but now the season will be shortened to December 15th– February 28th, except in Alpes-Maritimes where it still ends April 15th. In addition, recreational fishermen will see their seasonal quota cut in half from four dozen animals to two dozen animals.
Scientists say that without action the sea urchin stocks might be lost. In September 2023, the Interregional Directorate of the Mediterranean Sea reported a significant depletion of sea urchin resources across all coastal areas over a recent multiyear period. In the waters off Marseille, for example, densities have fallen to 1.5 sea urchins per m2 compared to 2 to 2.5/m2 previously, stated the director of the Côte Bleue marine park.
The stronger measures were demanded by commercial fishermen themselves, who point to poachers are a primary cause as well as overfishing by the industry itself. A shorter season will help detect poachers, they believe. Secondary causes of the decline include the increase in water temperature or the modification of plankton, which impacts sea urchin larvae, according to scientists.