LITTLE RIVER, CA, 5/22/23 — Mendocino County’s second annual UrchinFest is coming up June 16 – 17, offering an exploration of the overpopulated North Coast urchin for all the senses. Some will even be able to hit the water and dive for urchin!
The festival is born out of dire circumstances in the nearshore ecosystem, where bull kelp are a keystone species that provide habitat for other underwater creatures and even regulate the water’s pH. Warming waters and the catastrophic decline of the sunflower sea star in the past decade led to the overpopulation of purple urchin, a predator of kelp, and the loss of more than 90% of local bull kelp. Because there’s no commercial market for purple urchin, restoration specialists along the coast are exploring different ways to foster kelp regrowth and offset urchin populations.
“In Fort Bragg there are people trying to develop a blue economy, and I’m hoping this festival can support that going forward,” Cally Dym, who owns the Little River Inn and is a MendoParks board member, told The Mendocino Voice following the first festival last year.
Read more about the UrchinFest offerings in a news release from Visit Mendocino below — and note that a fishing license, which you can buy online, is necessary for some experiences.
Here’s the press release:
Join chefs, educators, experts and adventurous palates for all things purple sea urchin this summer as sustainability takes center stage. Long a major producer of sea urchin in the United States, Mendocino County celebrates this delicacy and its intertwined ocean existence with a host of events in coastal Fort Bragg including a sake and urchin seminar, ocean demonstration on harvesting, cleaning and opening fresh purple urchin and special packages including shore dives for this delectable delicacy.
Friday, June 16, 2023 – 7:00 PM
Campfire chat with Dr. Kevin Smith of Catch n’ Cook on America’s indigenous peoples and the kelp highway; Free.
Van Damme State Beach, Fort Bragg, Calif.
Saturday, June 17, 2023 – Morning Low Tide 6:00 AM
Follow Kevin Smith PhD, onto the rocks and into the shallows searching for urchin, turban snails and other tide pool treats. Keep your catch or learn how to prepare it at the evening meal.
Saturday, June 17, 2023 – 1:00 PM
Uni demo and educational talk at Van Damme State Beach, fresh uni tasting, harvest/open/clean demonstrations and interpretive talk on purple urchin impact/solutions on the ecosystem; Urchin provided by the Waterman’s Alliance; Triston McHush/Nature Conservancy; Free.
Van Damme State Beach, Fort Bragg, Calif.
Saturday, June 17, 2023 – 6:00 PM
All hail the Uni! Join Little River Inn’s Executive Chef Marc Dym and Master Sushi Chef Frank Takao for a prep-and-cook session followed by a five-course repast focused on the purple sea urchin in all its glory; Sake expert and educator Kerry Tamura will pair each course with sake and discuss the nuances of each. $250.00; Tickets: www.littleriverinn.com.
Little River Inn, Little River, Calif.
A variety of Mendocino restaurants are offering special Uni menus during this timeframe, from Uni Baked Oysters to Salmon with Champagne and Sea Urchin Beurre Blanc; various prices. Pull a seat up at Inn at Newport Ranch, KW Saltwater Café, Noyo Harbor Inn, Izakaya Gama, SIBO, VUE Kitchen and Wickson Restaurant. See full list: www.urchinfest.com.
Noyo Center for Marine Science will be offering special programs at each location:
Discovery Center Science Museum, 338 N. Main Street
Slack Tide Café, 32430 North Harbor Drive
Crow’s Nest Interpretive Center, South FB Coastal Trail;
Fort Bragg, Calif., www.noyocenter.org.
A variety of hotels are offering package deals, uni menus, sea foraging and weekend value pricing including MacCallum House, Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, Elk Cove Inn, Inn at Newport Ranch and Noyo Harbor Inn. www.visitmendocino.com/see-do/deals-and-special-offers.
Little River Inn ups the ante with two new packages including guest accommodations, tide pooling/harvesting, a shore dive led by the Freedive Shop and fresh-from-the-sea urchin-focused repasts. This is a one-of-a-kind experience for those seeking an up-close-and-personal encounter with Mr. Uni; $2500++; www.urchinfest.com.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.