I was on a sea urchin dragger today - for those of you not from Down East, sea urchins are spiny little mollusks, about the size of a small apple, that crawl along the bottom of the ocean eating seaweed with a beak on their underside.
When cracked open, they reveal a bright orange-colored roe called "uni" in Japan, where it is an expensive delicacy.
Just 10 years ago, urchins were considered a nuisance but after the Japanese fished out their own urchin, they turned to Maine, Russia and China for a new supply. The critters are now worth around $2 a pound and the Cambodian importers were meeting the boats right there on the dock this afternoon. The guy whose boat I went on got $4,000 for just today's harvest.
So, I was on this urchin dragger and when the basket is opened up and dumps its contents on a big work table at the back of the boat OH MY GODDESS what unGoddessly creatures there were to behold:
There were sea cucumbers, a shapeless thing that sort of looks like a cucumber on steriods that can puddle itself into a black, slimy pancake. oh so gross.
There were sea caterpillars, all hairy and tentacley on one side, and all fleshy and ribbed on the other. an even worse gross.
There were unknown and unnamed things that looked like a big giant snot and then small red and white critters that looked like a shrimp gone beserk.
There were also rocks, lovely starfish, small green crabs (which eat the urchin and so the deckhands stepped on each and every one of them) and scallops that sat and clacked their big shells open and shut.
We were only in about 31 feet of water. I am never sticking even so much as a toe in the ocean again now that I now those disgusting creatures are so close to shore.
I just know I'm going to have nightmares tonight....