Sea urchin roe is a valuable food product. The commercial potential of Echinus esculentus L. (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) was assessed both by surveying field populations and gonad growth in response to artificial feeds. Urchins were collected from four locations on the Scottish west coast between June and August of 1998. The roe content was found to be of variable quality. A relatively low percentage of urchins (34.9%) had roe which was considered marketable both in terms of yield and colour. Urchins with a marketable yield of roe were found where algal growth or encrusting organisms were most prolific. Good roe colours and high roe yields were not necessarily coincident. The data suggest an urchin fishery is likely to be impractical economically. In tank-based trials large E. esculentus were fed either commercially available salmon feed, a pelletised urchin diet or the macroalgae Laminaria saccharina. Urchins fed the artificial diets increased in test diameter during the 24-week experiment. At the end of the trial urchins fed salmon feed had a significantly higher gonad and alimentary index than those in the other treatments. E. esculentus is able to successfully exploit a diet rich in animal-origin oils. The diets also influenced gonad colour. The proportion of urchins with marketable gonad colours was highest (85%) in the treatment receiving salmon feed. As this species appears robust in culture and as artificial diets promote somatic and gonadal growth, an investigation into the practicalities of a fully farmed approach to gonad production may be worthwhile.
- Marine & Freshwater Biology