Innovative Research at BEES: Gourmet Marine
Such is the popularity of sea urchins with sushi lovers that most of the wild stocks are gone because of overharvesting. However, Dr Gerry Mouzakitis, a Scientist from the Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science (now BEES) at UCC is the founder of Gourmet Marine Ltd., a UCC start-up and he aims to capture some of the US$200 million worldwide market with a novel farming system that has been patented in 19 countries.
Although sea urchins were never really eaten locally, Ireland was a major European exporter of wild sea urchins in the 1970s and 1980s, exporting several 100 tonnes of the animals every year. Due to over-harvesting the Irish wild stocks crashed in 1996. Currently, Ireland exports less than 10 tonnes per year. This situation might change though.
Over the past seven years and using funding from Enterprise Ireland, researchers in UCC have developed the world’s first and only system for culturing sea urchins, called the UrchinPlatter™ System. The new technology allows farmers to culture sea urchins quickly and efficiently. By using only natural seaweed as feed, the system avoids the use of artificial diets, which have caused problems in other types of marine farming.
“The potential for this type of sea urchin technology is huge, both in Ireland and globally,” states Dr Gerry Mouzakitis, “Wherever you look in the world, wild sea urchin stocks are been overharvested and are not sustainable. The UrchinPlatter™ System can change all that and allow the production of a healthy, natural seafood product that doesn’t harm the marine environment”.
In addition to being the first sea urchin farming technology in the world, the UrchinPlatter™ System is also the first aquaculture technology ever developed in Ireland. “Ireland is currently the world leader in sea urchin farming. We want to maintain that lead.” says Dr Mouzakitis.
Over the past few months Gourmet Marine has partnered with Dunmanus Seafoods Ltd (Durrus, Co. Cork) and produced the first ever out-of-season sea urchins. “To really market test them, we organised a Sea Urchin Tasting Meeting”, says Dr Mouzakitis. “The response from the seafood chefs was fantastic. They loved them!”
According to UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy, Gourmet Marine reflects the university’s commitment to commercialising its research through its Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). “Dr Mouzakitis is a scientist who recognised the commercial potential of his research. Assisted by UCC, with funding from Enterprise Ireland, he developed the business to the point that it has now been launched onto the global export market.” Dr Murphy highlighted the fact that UCC’s commitment to the commercialisation of research has resulted in the number of intellectual property (IP) licences, increasing from 4-5 per year to mid-teens per year for the last two years. “This is the third start-up company to set-up in 2009 based on UCC research and IP,” says Dr Murphy. In addition, the total amount spent on research at UCC, earned through external competition, in the last academic year, rose by €5 million to €78 million.
image: (l-r) Garvan Corkery; President Michael Murphy; Gerry Mouzakitis (CEO, Gourmet Marine)
For more on Gourmet Marine, see their website www.GourmetMarine.ie