Diving for sea urchins in Chile
Above: Common diving boat in southern Chile.
Diving for sea urchins in Chile is a major business generating lots of jobs for local people. Since 1990 Chile has supplied the world with more than 50% of its sea urchins. Locally the sea urchins are called Chilean Erizos.
Before 1975 sea urchins were only collected in Chile by artisanal fisherman and their families when the tide was low and the ocean was calm. They collected them by walking along the newly exposed rocky shoreline. Since Japan started depleting the sea urchins in the waters near them, they started importing more sea urchins. They eventually imported 88% of the markets sea urchins. Before 1975 the annual harvest was only a few thousand metric tons. By 1975 the harvest had grown to 10,000 tons. In 1992 the harvest amount rose to 60,000 tons. Since then the harvest has stayed at a sustainable amount of 40,000 to 60,000 tons a year.
Today sea urchin collection (on large scale) is dominated by carrier vessels and small boat operators that work for them. The carrier vessels 60-80 foot boats that collect the catch from up to a dozen smaller dive boats. Instead of the traditional hobby scuba tanks, sea urchin divers use compressors on the dive boats that have tubing in the water that they can breath from. A full size group of divers can collect up to 1000 pounds of sea urchins a day. The carrier vessels makes about .48 cents a kilogram and approximately 70% of that goes to the divers.
There are local divers that dive on a smaller scale and sell directly to the market. These divers work off of boats like the one pictured above. There is usually one guy maintaining the compressor up top and constantly rowing to keep the boat from drifting too far from the diver. He is also responsible for collecting the sea urchins as the diver brings them up. These smaller scale divers make around 1000 chilean pesos a kilogram when they sell directly at the market.
Sea urchins are only one of the many ocean creatures that Chileans dive for. Throughout Chilean markets you can find many different varieties of shellfish (mariscos) that have been freshly collected from the clean, cold waters of Chile.
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