DUNEDIN - New Zealand could build a big export trade of kina to Asia, says a South Island scientist.
Research at the University of Otago marine science department could help pave the way for developing a lucrative sea urchin industry in New Zealand, said marine science senior lecturer Dr Mike Barker.
New Zealand had the chance to avoid some of the mistakes made in the overseas sea urchin industry, which had been hit by boom-and-bust cycles, he said.
Otago University is the leading New Zealand centre for echinoderm research.
Echinoderms are the largest group of totally marine invertebrate animals, including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
A multimillion-dollar industry in the United States is based on exporting sea urchin roe to Southeast Asia.
Wanaka fisheries entrepreneur George Wast has been battling officials and politicians for 14 years to establish a kina industry in the south.
Kina is a traditional Maori seafood.
He has sought permission to harvest 1000 tonnes of the sea urchin from around the Southland coast.
The total allowable catch for Southland is 200 tonnes.
Mr Wast said Japanese tycoon Teruo Kanaguchi was prepared to invest several million dollars in the project, which could create 150 jobs.
Mr Wast came close to his goal in 1993 when the Fisheries Ministry instigated a kina development programme in Fiordland.
But the 1000-tonne limit was for all comers, and the programme collapsed because the other harvesters could not find markets..
He said he had a ready export market for the kina through the Japanese tycoon's Kanaguchi Corporation.
A processing plant would cost $3.5 to $4.5 million and a purpose-built boat $1 million to $2 million.
Dr Barker said Otago University's standing in the field had been boosted by the hosting of the 10th International Echinoderm Conference last week, attended by 140 scientists, including 130 from abroad.
It was the first time such a conference had been held in New Zealand, said Dr Barker, who helped to organise it.
Although members of the echinoderm family were often viewed as simply curious animals found on the shoreline, they were of considerable experimental, ecological and economic importance throughout the world, he said.
Scientists made wide use of the animals to study a variety of biological processes.
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