The Tasmanian commercial dive fishery selectively harvests three key species by hand from small vessels. The fishery has traditionally harvested two native species – shortspined sea urchin (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) and wavy periwinkles (Lunella undulata) – but has grown exponentially in recent years by harvesting range-extending longspined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii).
The urchin fishery operates almost year-round because the two urchin species spawn at different times of year, so each can be harvested when the roe quality peaks before spawning.
The fishery has been operating since the mid-1980s, was formalised with a management plan in 2005, and remains predominately owner-operated today with around 53 licences.
Periwinkles, also known as warreners or turbos - Image courtesy IMAS
Managing the fishery
The Commercial Dive Fishery is managed under the
Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 and
Fisheries (Commercial Dive) Rules 2021.
Recreational bag and possession limits do not apply to urchins, but there is a daily personal bag limit of 100 periwinkles.
Commercial limits do not apply to longspined sea urchin.
Commercial limits do apply to native shortspined sea urchin and periwinkles. Minimum size limits ensure animals can spawn at least twice before they enter the fishery, and a total catch limit per species is divided across the five
Commercial Dive Zones to spread fishing effort. Once a catch limit is reached, that zone is closed for the remainder of the licensing year. Further information is available in the 2023-24 Operational Guide for the Commercial Dive, Shellfish and Undaria Fisheries.
Catch and Closure page for current catch and closure updates for all species.
Wavy periwinkles, also known locally as warrener or turbo, are native marine whelks that inhabit the Tasmanian intertidal zone.
Periwinkles have a strong muscular foot and thick shells with brilliant banding ranging in colour from bright green to brown and yellow.
Periwinkles are marketed live to be fresh cooked by the consumer, and the flesh is firm with a mild salty flavour.
Harvest peak: August to November
Shortspined sea urchin,
Shortspined sea urchin
The shortspined sea urchin is native and endemic to Tasmania where they perform important ecological functions.
The urchin has short, solid spines, and is coloured purple, green or white. The colour can change across the test and spines.
The roe, also called uni, has a delicate favour and is highly prized in Asian markets where it attracts a considerable price.
Harvest peak: August to January
Longspined sea urchin,
Longspined sea urchin
The longspined sea urchin is a range extended species that has established locally. Urchin larvae arrive on the East Australian Current and settle all along the East Coast.
This highly adaptable urchin thrives in the cool waters of Tasmania, where it has few predators beyond large lobsters. Their voracious appetite strips the seafloor of plant life, leaving barrens that can stretch for hectares. The urchins can survive barrens by eating driftweed, but the loss of food and habitat poses a threat to other marine species, ecosystems, and key fisheries like abalone and rock lobster.
The urchin is identifiable by long spines that are half the length of the test diameter. Colours vary from dark brown to black, with a turquoise-like sheen on the spines and red down the centre.
They produce double the amount of roe as their native counterpart, in excess of 10% of their body weight, with a robust flavour and uniform yellow colour. Considerable investment in recent years has opened new markets for both the edible roe, and the urchin test/spines which can be processed into nutrient-rich fertiliser, resulting in a low waste fishery.
Current research projects into the management of Longspined Sea Urchin are being undertaken through the Abalone Industry Reinvestment Fund (AIRF)
Harvesting peak: December to July
Commercial Dive Policy Paper 2011 (PDF 87Kb)
Instrument of exemption - Take Centro from research areas Elephant Rock North Bay (PDF 62Kb)
Longspined sea urchin (Centrostephanus) IMAS Research