Norway firm teams up with China's Zoneco Group to repair ocean ecosystem.
A fish farmer feeds sea urchins at Aomori Prefecture in Japan.
Sea urchins are back on the menu in China after global warming and overfishing triggered a population boom that threatened marine ecosystems.
These porcupines of the ocean have flourished as a result of climate change, ravishing seabeds across the globe by devouring precious seaweed.
"The excessive reproduction and growth of sea urchins brought by overfishing and global warming are causing the desertification in many coastal areas," said Tsuyoshi Takeda, founder and CEO of Urchinomics.
Earlier last month, the Norway-based company signed a cooperation agreement with China's Zoneco Group to capture, rear and sell sea urchins in a move to help repair the ocean's ecological system.
"If there are two sea urchins within one square meter at the bottom of the sea, they will eat up all the seaweed around them," Takeda said.
By bringing down their numbers, it gives various species of marine algae the chance to grow.
Pilot sea urchin farms have already been set up in Australia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Norway.
"By working alongside local universities and research institutions, Urchinomics' business model could be copied around the world," Takeda said, adding that he was grateful for Zoneco's support.
Wu Hougang, board chairman of the Zoneco Group, is just as optimistic about the venture.
Based in Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning province, the company runs a 1,600-square-kilometer modern farm in the northern Yellow Sea and is one of the leading seafood providers in China.
In recent years, the group has pursued a sustainable fishing policy to maintain the delicate balance between commercial development and marine ecosystems.
"It not only maximizes resources and reduces waste, but also ensures the biodiversity of the area," Wu said.
Zoneco's scallop fishery at Zhangzi Island in Changhai county is the first in China to be awarded a Marine Stewardship Council certification. The London-based organization is working with key partners to promote sustainable fishing practices.
Founded in 1958 and listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2006, Zoneco has grown into one of China's leading fisheries, trading in trepang, or sea cucumber, abalone and Yezo scallops.
In its semi-annual report this year, the group reported revenue of 1.5 billion yuan ($226.3 million) during the first six months, an increase of 12.6 percent compared to 2016.
But due to limited production, sales revenue of sea urchins came in at only 10 million yuan.
"With good quality and taste, they are popular in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou," Wu said. "But they are often in short supply."
To cater for increased demand, Zoneco is looking to buy sea urchins raised in other parts of the world.
In addition, the innovative feed developed for the business could be used to rear abalone and trepang in China.
"The feed is based on the technology used to raise salmon. It contains no antibiotics and has been around for more than 15 years," Wu said.
"While building our own sustainable sea farm, we participated in projects around the globe," he added.
Cui He, chairman of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance, has backed the partnership between Zoneco and Urchinomics.
He said it would be good for the industry and marine ecological systems.
"Both sides can promote ecological restoration by marketing sea urchins," Cui said. "They complement each other."
2017-12-14 China Daily (ZHANG XIAOMIN)