The Pacific Northwest’s Sea Urchins Are Taking Over the Ocean

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SALMON, British Columbia — In the Pacific Northwest, there’s a long history of taking in the ocean’s bounty, harvesting sea cucumbers, picking salmon and cutting off the heads of eels to make them into soup.

But never have ocean currents been so influential in shaping the lives of people, fish and sea creatures alike.

Now, ocean currents are disrupting this ancient tradition and are making it impossible for some people and animals to survive.

Scientists say there’s no reason to be alarmed.

Instead of feeding on sea cucumbers and salmon, sea urchins — which are also often considered prey — are now being caught in commercial nets.

And they’re not the only ones.

“I see my grandchildren asking me, ‘What is wrong with the ocean? I could kill myself if I catch something,’” said John Erikson, one of the founders of an ocean advocacy group called Ocean Conservancy.

For decades, the Pacific Northwest has been harvesting sea urchins to make soup. The sea urchins in their possession were then shipped to restaurants, often on frozen blocks of them in ice, to make soup.

Now, commercial operators from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area are targeting sea urchins, because they’re an increasingly popular ingredient in upscale seafood dishes, like bouillabaisse and sea scallops. (See some common sea urchins below.)

And at the same time, the Pacific Northwest is becoming a hotbed for recreational fishing.

“People are going out to find sea urchins on their own and they’re bringing them back,” said James Condon, executive director of the nonprofit Save Our Seas.

In 2009, there were about 2,700 sea urchins caught in the Pacific Northwest, down from more than 4,100 harvested in 1980. That’s a drop of about 30

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