TOKYO -- A city roughly 100 km southwest of Tokyo has come up with a new local delicacy: sea urchin raised on scrap cabbage and orange peels.
Sea urchins live double lives in Japan. As part of the national cuisine, they fetch high prices. But only a few coastal areas are believed to produce ones of sufficient quality -- and the rest are often exterminated because they can ravage local seaweed populations.
A fishing cooperative in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, is now raising sea urchins on scrap produce. It made its first shipment on July 5, delivering 400 to local restaurants and supermarkets, where they are sold for about 400 yen ($3.70) each. Shipments to elsewhere in Japan will follow.
Odawara's sea urchins are caught in the wild, then fed for three months. Industry insiders say the resulting meat is sweeter than its fully wild counterpart, and each piece ends up containing more edible portions.
"It has a gentle sweetness and flavor," said a seafood dealer at local supermarket chain Yaomasa.
The goal is to quintuple production next year. "We hope to turn it into a local specialty," a city representative said.
The cabbage-fed sea urchins are also expected to boost local fishermen's incomes and help protect the environment. "They will push us to think about cultivating resources, not just taking them," the chairman of the Odawara fishing co-op said.
Communities in Yamaguchi Prefecture are experimenting with feeding sea urchins tomatoes, while those in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region are working with different types of seaweed and clover.