Our voracious appetites for seafood have already depleted the ocean’s fish stocks (a 2014 study estimates Pacific bluefin tuna populations to be 96% lower than if we left them alone), and sea urchin could be the next casualty.

The spiky critters are prized for their rich orange roe, called uni on sushi menus. Most of it is consumed in Japan, but plenty of stateside chefs have been adding the delicacy to their menus, too, fanning demand for the sweet, silky ingredient. Unfortunately, that means it’s begun to be overfished.

According to an article in The Atlantic, declining stocks have diminished a $35 million per year industry to $5 million in Maine. In Nova Scotia, it’s down to $890,000 from $2.5 million.


There are other factors at play too. The Atlantic story suggests that a species of kelp—possibly introduced to Nova Scotia by maritime traffic along busy shipping routes—could be messing with the urchins’ ability to get to their feeding grounds.

And in Antarctica and Australia, studies have shown that ocean acidification is lowering the little guys’ reproductive capacity. What that means for diners is that uni could become rarer and more expensive in the future. Sadly for the urchins, that will probably only increase its desirability.

Hopefully, the shortage won’t affect the “uni spoon” at Toro, because it’s so damn delicious.

[via The Atlantic]