Sea Urchin Fishing Tips
Generally, in all the islands where white sea urchin fisheries exist, fishers collect both male and female white sea urchins by free diving with mask, snorkel and fins. However, methods of harvesting vary to some extent among the islands.
In Barbados, free divers traditionally harvested white sea urchins from nearshore areas, swimming out from the shore, singly or in pairs, carrying a floating maypole (agave flower stalk, Agave barbadiensis) from which large net bags or sacks (made from netting, crocus bags or discarded sugar bags) were suspended (Plate 6). The white sea urchins were “picked” from the sea floor by hand, or forced out of crevices with pieces of iron referred to as “rakes” and placed in the bags, which, when full, were floated on the maypole log back to shore. Alternatively, sea urchins were collected in floating wooden crates or rafts.
Today, white sea urchins are often harvested by divers operating from small “moses” boats (rather than swimming from shore) and, less commonly, from other vessels such as launches (called “dayboats”) and even iceboats that are used primarily in the island’s pelagic fisheries.
The white sea urchins are landed at numerous points along the coast, including many that are inaccessible by road (McConney, Mahon and Parker, 2003; Parker, forthcoming). A few non-traditional fishers use scuba gear (“tank men”) to harvest urchins. However, since 1998, the harvesting of white sea urchins using scuba gear has been prohibited by law and only free diving is legally allowed in the fishery.
In recent years, with the increasing scarcity of sea urchins in Barbados, there has been a greater reliance on fishing from boats, especially in the farther and less accessible areas often exposed to heavier wave action (Scheibling and Mladenov, 1987). For these areas, most fishers go out in the traditional Barbadian dayboat (7–12 m launch with inboard motor) or the iceboat (12–18 m launch with inboard motor) and some use the moses boat (3–6 m open rowboat with or without outboard motor).
In Saint Lucia, the fishing methods are similar to those in Barbados, viz. free diving, either by swimming from shore or from small open boats and pirogues. Traditionally, a raft known as a dory or shaloop in Creole (transom in English) was used to float white sea urchins back to shore (Plate 8), or white sea urchins were harvested from dugout canoes. The vessel of choice used in Saint Lucia today is the pirogue (Plate 7). Smith and Koester note that diving for white sea urchins was an enjoyable activity for children, who would make rafts by putting sticks through the trunks of four or five banana plants, or by tying three or four logs ofgonmyé modi together.
In Carriacou and Grenada, the urchins are collected from beds of Gracilaria spp., seagrass or reefs by diving “barewind” (free diving with mask and fins). As in Barbados, individuals sometimes swim out to collect the white sea urchins with some type of float and feed bags. Some fishers in Carriacou and Grenada operate in groups of about two to three from wooden pirogues 2.5–6 m long powered by oars or small outboard engines.
Typically, crews in nonmotorized rowboats would often go out together, sometimes collectively hiring a boat with an engine to tow them to white sea urchin grounds. More recently, with the common use of scuba, larger boats (similar to those used to catch lobster and conch) have been used for white sea urchin harvesting.
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