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Maine Uni

Maine Sea Urchin

(Strongylocentrus droebachienisis): WILD


THE onset of autumn here in Maine ushers in the start of urchin diving season. Spiny sea urchins (Atlantic Green urchins) are found along the coast of Maine through the Canadian Maritimes and yield creamy “uni” – the corral, or roe, of the urchin. We receive ours fresh from the ocean and processed right here in Portland, Maine.

Sea urchins have spiny-shells, making them echinoderms that look like pincushions. For this reason, they commonly receive the name as the “porcupines of the sea.” In fact, the name “urchin” comes from the Olde English meaning of the word: hedgehog. Other names like the Spanish Erizo de mar, simply mean “egg of the sea'.

Urchins have close relation to sand dollars and starfish. In fact, if you flip an urchin over they have a familiar five-pointed, star-shaped pattern on its belly. Its symmetrical pattern of “teeth” on its underside is called Aristotle’s Lantern. Urchins have no legs, requiring them to use their spines for locomotion and trapping food. For diet, the sea urchin feeds on sea grasses, algae and organic matter.

Urchins, and more specifically urchin roe, called uni, receive high praise and are coveted delicacies in Japan. In the 1980s, Maine fishermen exploited the uni market, triggering a “gold rush”. Because of this unmanaged harvesting (41 million pounds landed in 1993), Maine now has strict restrictions on uni fisheries, including no night or weekend harvesting, and requiring urchins be between 2 and 3 inches in diameter (Pacific urchins by contrast are often 6 inches across). Removed from their shell, the bright yellow to orange lobes are perfect for traditional sushi or sashimi dishes, or prepared with a spritz of lemon. Uni is also used in emulsions such as pasta sauces, pureed with butter to finish seafood sauces, as a decorative garnish, and in hors d’oeuvres, stews and soups, omelets and soufflés.

Browne Trading currently offers Maine Urchin roe in 4-ounce bamboo trays (typically 20-30 pieces of uni per tray).

Catch Region: Gulf of Maine

Seasonality: September – April, subject To fishery

Catch Methods: Diver hand harvested, draggers

Yield (Roe): Up to 20%

Flavor Profile: Slightly sweet

Texture Profile: Delicate, smooth, buttery


  • Pacific Urchin
  • Lobster roe

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