Assessment of the sea urchin, Tripneustes ventricosus, as a candidate for aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico

End Date: 02/01/05


Over the past decade, a major seafood market in the Far East has developed for the gonads (usually referred to as roe or uni) of sea urchins ($260 million imported into Japan in 2001). Sea urchin fisheries have expanded so greatly in the past several years to meet the demand that natural sea urchin populations in Japan, Europe, Chile, Ireland, Canada, and the United States have become overfished. In some cases harvesting techniques and overharvest have resulted in catastrophic changes to the sea urchin habitats, causing potentially major damage to those ecosystems.

Since management of the fisheries worldwide has not been very successful, intensive efforts in aquaculture are being organized to meet this demand for sea urchins. These efforts include the development of hatcheries that can provide seedstock for regions with collapsed fisheries, for mariculture operations and, more recently, for land-based aquaculture. The Gulf of Mexico does not have an established fishery for sea urchins, but several species shows great potential for aquaculture. Based on our successes in the first two years of prior funding, we are continuing efforts to examine the aquaculture potential of the sea urchin, Tripneustes ventricosus, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tripneustes ventricosus exhibits rapid growth, and individuals can reach maturity in less than one year (other fished sea urchins can require 3–4 years to reach maturity). Larval culture and post-metamorphic growth have recently been described. It has a similar life history to Lytechinus variegatus (a sea urchin still under commercial consideration) but has an established high commercial market value. We would like to initiate longitudinal studies into the various life history stages of this species, particularly as they relate to the development of commercial culture. In this study we propose a broad-based assessment of T. ventricosus as an aquaculture candidate by optimizing:

  1. Seedstock production,
  2. Post-metamorphic survivorship and growth,
  3. Juvenile growth,
  4. Gonad production in adults,
  5. Development of a commercial-grade culture system for land-based aquaculture, and
  6. Development of a research-grade culture system for medical research.

This proposal presents an apparently ambitious project; however, much of the research reported for other sea urchins is transferable to this species, and major advances in the first four objectives are possible. In addition to the primary investigators, we have a willing team of collaborators, graduate, and undergraduate students eager to participate. For the development of commercial systems we have engaged the collaboration of several user groups including potential producers, fabricators, and engineers. We recognize that development of these systems will continue past the granting period.

Multiple collaborators will be involved with this project and related proposals are being submitted to Sea Grant in association with the University of South Florida and Texas A&M. This collaboration will be used to develop a Gulf of Mexico Sea Urchin Consortium, a research consortium dedicated to the promotion of a new, sustainable industry in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions. The aquaculture opportunities may have a positive impact on socioeconomic groups involved previously with other banned or limited fisheries and in the development of new industries and skilled professionals.


We propose to develop protocols for the use of the sea urchin Tripneustes ventricosus as an aquaculture species. Specifically, we will develop those protocols leading to (1) the mass production of  seedstock, (2) post-metamorphic growth and survivorship, (3) juvenile growth, (4) production of high quality roe, (5) the development of land-based commercial aquaculture production systems, and (6) the development of research-grade culture systems for medical research. Developed technologies will be transferred to user groups including those individuals involved in other declining fisheries.


We will attempt to define those parameters that are associated with growth of postmetamorphic juveniles and roe production in adults. We will initiate development of culture systems that can be used commercially for seafood production and medical research. 


We are within several years of the development of new industries associated with sea urchin aquaculture in the US. The value of urchin roe in Japan is 1/4 the value of all species (finfish, etc.) cultured in the US. Tripneustes sp. produce a quality roe that is of high value in Japan, but not readily available in any current fishery. The development of the sea urchin industry may have a very positive impact of those socioeconomic groups impacted negatively by recent bans and limited access in the Gulf of Mexico, including the shrimp and soft-shell industries.


Research Results Here