Sea urchin hatchery up for sale as John seeks calmer waters

November 24th, 2016 4:55 PM

By Southern Star Team

John Chamberlain with his beloved sea urchins at his hatchery on Dunmanus Bay

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A Mizen shellfish farmer is willing to pass on his invaluable knowledge if the new owner of his 20-year-old enterprise would like a few tips, he tells Brian Moore

A Call has gone out to find someone to follow in the footsteps of a very innovative West Cork shellfish farmer.

John Chamberlain’s sea urchins, which he breeds at his hatchery on the shores of Dunmanus Bay, are a much sought-after delicacy by many of the top chefs and restaurants across Ireland and the UK.

Where once the rock pools along the rocky shoreline from Goleen to Kilcrohane, then on to the Beara peninsula and into Kenmare Bay, were alive with these purple spiny globes, these days the sea urchin is a rare find. 

‘Back in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, this area exported up to 15 tonnes of urchins each year,’ John Chamberlain said. ‘Then within two years this dropped to less than 2 tonnes and the demand for the urchins moved to other parts of the world’.

However, it was this demand that encouraged John to embark on what was to become a very innovative and enterprising project, namely to breed the sea urchins. In fact, John’s sea urchin hatchery on the Mizen peninsula over looking Dunmanus Bay attracted the interest of experts and academics from across the globe. 

Now, twenty years later, John Chamberlain has decided to hang up his gear and sell his hatchery as he looks forward to his much-deserved retirement. 

‘For that last twenty years I have been trying and succeeding to produce juvenile sea urchins. Now, we have introduced them to the wild and to our own farming areas. We have a good bay with clean cold water that is suitable for the growing of kelp and this is what the sea urchin feeds on,’ John said. ‘I grow the urchins up to a certain size so that they can survive when I introduce them to the rock pools that they grow on from there. It takes three years to get them to harvesting stage. We are at a stage where we are concentrating on the home market for high class restaurants and also the British market,’ John said.

Now, following last year’s bad storms, John has decided to move on to calmer waters, so to speak. ‘I would really like to see somebody progress with it now, we have learned an awful lot over the last 20 years, and if anyone is interested in taking over, I would be delighted to help and give them a few pointers,’ John concluded.

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