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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An Analysis of the Market for Certified Sustainable Sea Urchin in San Diego


In the 1960s, large populations of sea urchin were destroying local giant kelp forests in California. The urchin fishery was established in 1971 to manage populations. The tissues targeted in this fishery are the gonads of the male and female sea urchin, which are commonly called roe or uni in Japanese. Today approximately 99% of the sea urchins harvested in San Diego are sold as uni in the sushi market. Distributors prefer to sell their product domestically because of consistent domestic prices, lower transportation costs, and nonexistent currency exchange costs. Due to the limited growth potential in the traditional uni market, this paper will focus on differentiating the San Diego sea urchin through sustainable certification. An analysis of the potential market for sustainably certified sea urchin will be presented. A survey of San Diego sushi restaurants was conducted to determining their level of knowledge about the sea urchin fishery, sustainable certification, and willingness to pay for sustainably certified uni. Interviews were conducted with sushi chefs, restaurant managers, divers, and the processers to get an understanding of the local sea urchin market. Results showed that a market does exist for certified sustainable uni and restaurants are willing to pay 23% more for certified sustainable uni that is equal in quality to the uni being purchased today. Education is key to increasing the size of this market.

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