US, Canadian sea urchin suppliers enjoying spike in Asian sales

Published on
September 20, 2022
The staff of the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association at their booth at Seafood Expo Asia.

The Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association, representing sea urchin fishers in the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada, are hoping to increase their exports to Singapore.

Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association Executive Director Geoff Krause told SeafoodSource during Seafood Expo Asia (SEA), which ran from 14 to 16 September 2022 at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, his members have been increasing their exports to a number of different markets in Asia. Japan previously took 90 percent of their exported product but now represents 50 percent of their overall market. But according to Krause, the Asian market is still vital for sea urchin exports and the return of an in-person event in the region was helpful to building relationships with buyers.

“It’s critical for us. Probably our biggest market is Japan, always has been,” Krause said. “This is more local for them, so it’s easier to come over and check things out.”

Japan’s decreased share of overall exports is not due to a decline in demand, but rather an increase in sales to other regions. Hong Kong, for example, has increased significantly in value for the association – Krause estimates the value of urchin exports to Hong Kong have increased from CAD 150,000 to CAD 250,000 (USD 112,000 to USD 187,000, EUR 113,000 to 188,000) annually in the past to CAD 4.5 million (USD 3.36 million, EUR 3.37 million) today.

South Korea is also buying more urchins, according to Krause.

“We’ve got a free trade deal now with South Korea, so we’ve been seeing steady growth with them. They're our number-three market now,” Krause said.

Krause's association has also soon a boost from growing sales to China. In 2010, he estimated the association sold around CAD 50,000 (USD 37,000, EUR 38,000) worth of urchin to the market, which increased to a peak of around CAD 1.5 million (USD 1.12 million, EUR 1.13 million) in 2018.

“Last year, we did a lot of live sales into China, which was kind of surprising, but I think that just reflects the Chinese preference for live foods,” Krause said.

Krause said he credits the association’s growing success in Hong Kong with his association's attendance of previous editions of Seafood Expo Asia, which was held in the city-state until 2018. He’s hoping that success translates to Singapore.

“We know Singapore is a really valuable market, because they have a great mix of culinary traditions here,” Krause said. “They like the product. We’re hoping that we’re going to see the same sort of success here that we saw in Hong Kong.”

However, his push to increase in sales in Singapore isn’t without obstacles, Krause said.

“One of the big problems we have selling from Canada to Singapore is there’s no direct flights, or there’s very few direct flights, though that’s starting to change now,” Krause said. “When you have to ship to say, [Tokyo] Narita, and then you have to transship there over to another plane, and then on to Singapore, it adds who knows – 6, 12, maybe 18 hours onto the flight.”

Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource

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