Olhão teams up with China to breed sea urchins

Olhão’s fish farming station is expected to start breeding sea urchins as part of a partnership with Chinese scientists.

The project is part of a larger protocol signed on Friday in Xiamen, China by Portuguese Minister of Sea Ana Paula Vitorino and the Chinese Secretary of State for Sea.

Vitorino explained that the protocol includes “many different Portuguese authorities”, each with projects planned in the areas of the “economy of the sea, scientific and technological development, and the environmental sustainability of the sea”.

The goal of the initiative in Olhão is to study whether captive-bred sea urchins can survive.

“The station has all the components it needs (for the project), from closed tanks to offshore farms,” said Nuno Lourenço from Portugal’s sea and atmosphere institute (IPMA).

If the breeding project is successful, “large-scale production” will be considered.

Sea urchins are a popular delicacy, especially in Asian countries. In Japan, they are served raw as sushi.

They are also eaten in some Mediterranean countries, in the US, in South America and New Zealand.

Also known as sea hedgehogs, they are commonly found on rocky ocean floors in both shallow and deeper waters, as well as in coral reefs.

They are also a little known but much appreciated delicacy here in the Algarve. Although not harvested commercially, many locals collect them by hand in February and March when they are at their best for eating. In the Algarve it is traditional to quickly boil the urchins and eat the cooked eggs, although they are also enjoyed raw.

There are nearly 200 different species of sea urchins.

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