Seabed Innovation developing innovative system to ranch sea urchins in Norway

A Seabed Innovation employee showing off some of the sea urchin roe the company has harvested.

Steinar Ludvigsen, the founder and general manager of Kristiansund, Norway-based Seabed Innovation, has big plans to market uni sourced from Norwegian sea urchins, beginning with European and Asian markets.

Many aspects of his plan are novel. For example, while scuba divers conduct most urchin harvesting around the world by carrying a basket and a claw tool, Ludvigsen said this process is too costly in Norway.

“We have a new method to catch sea urchins. We will make specially built boats to do this longline boats with a special catching system on them that will catch [urchins] with nets,” he said.

Ludvigsen didn't give further details about his company's catching system, but said the company's eventual goal is to harvest up to 100 metric tons (MT) a day, including shells.

Sea urchins, mainly of the species Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, are plentiful along the entire coastline from the central Norwegian county of Trøndelag northward. In 2010, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) estimated the country's sea urchin population at 80 billion. Seabed Innovation plans to transport whole, live urchins to Norway's southern coast, where the climate is milder, and feed them there, though Ludvigsen acknowledged doing so creates an additional logistical challenge.

“You have to do it in the right places on the coast. There is a logistics system from the catching to the feeding to the market, but it’s good to have the experience that we have,” Ludvigsen said.

That experience includes Ludvigsen’s time spent as managing director of Norwegian fish company Export, where he engaged in the production, distribution, and export of seafood products. The company eventually sold to Havfisk, which Lerøy bought out in 2016.

Ludvigsen’s new venture, formed in 2020, will farm the sea urchins in the ocean in stacked cages to enable a stable year-round supply. In Norway, freezing is a mortality risk, and the ocean is less likely to freeze than outdoor land-based raceways, he said. 

Another sea urchin farming company pioneering an innovative land-based system is Urchinomics, based in IJmuiden, the Netherlands. This company has widely introduced the idea of harvesting and feeding  sea urchins taken from “urchin barrens” – areas of the seabed denuded of vegetation by sea urchins – as a way of restoring kelp beds to sequester carbon dioxide while producing a marketable product.

Additionally, the feed used in this process is created with sustainably harvested kelp provided by the Norwegian food research institute Nofima. Sustainability and carbon capture are important components of its business model, as selling carbon credits is another stream of income for the brand.

Seabed Innovation’s plan is similar to Urchinomics, but differs in the harvesting method, holding system, and feed, among other logistical details, Ludvigsen said.

Ludvigsen said aiding in the conservation of Norway's kelp forests was a secondary goal of Seabed Innovation. In order to contribute to carbon dioxide reduction through the restoration of kelp beds, the harvesting will center around only taking about 75 percent of available sea urchins. Ludvigsen said that this percentage would foster a restoration of natural balance, and the company will use a positioning system to track and record which areas it has scoured for urchins.  

Seabed Innovation plans to utilize .... 

Photo courtesy of Seabed Innovation

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