The Sicilian sea urchin, a key ingredient in the island’s famed spaghetti ai ricci di mare dish, is dwindling in local waters. Urgent calls for conservation measures are being sounded as the local dish could push the creature to extinction.
A three-year ban on sea urchin fishing in Sicily has been proposed by a local politician in response to the alarming warnings from researchers. However, this proposal is anticipated to encounter resistance from both fishermen and restaurant owners, who rely heavily on the sea urchin industry, especially during the summer influx of tourists.
Gaetano Serio, a chef in Palermo, expressed the dilemma faced by the restaurant industry: “On the one hand, I understand the need to preserve the sea urchin species, but on the other hand, blocking sea urchin fishing in Sicily for three years would be a tough blow for those of us who work in the restaurant industry.”
Sicilian sea urchin fishing already restricted
The fishing of sea urchins in Sicily is already restricted, with only 12 licensed fishers. However, hundreds engage in illegal fishing. The researchers from the University of Palermo emphasise the need for a complete pause in fishing for at least three years to prevent the extinction of the Sicilian sea urchin.
The purple sea urchins, Paracentrotus lividus, are vulnerable to environmental conditions, exacerbated by the climate crisis and pollution. Despite these challenges, it is the demand for sea urchins as a delicacy that intensifies their depletion in Sicilian waters.
Nello Dipasquale, a member of the Democratic party, is working on a legislative proposal for a sea urchin fishing ban to address the impending threat of extinction. Angelo Pumilia, a renowned chef, highlights the risks of illegal fishing and the need for awareness, stating, “There is a need for general awareness – otherwise, we truly risk having to do without one of the main culinary delicacies of our region.”
Meanwhile, in California, a surge in the sea urchin population is causing ecological havoc, highlighting the delicate balance required to sustain marine ecosystems globally.