The vana (Echinotrix diadema), also called tara poto, is a medium-sized (10 centimeters/4 inches) black sea urchin, with large spines up to 20 to 25 centimeters (8 to 10 inches) long. Inside, the body is orange to light orange in color.
Its iodized smell and taste are less pronounced than Mediterranean sea urchins, and it also has a buttery flavor. The urchin is eaten raw, with a dash of lime and sometimes with a slice of butter, and has a soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The vana is found on all the islands of French Polynesia that have a coral reef, at depths that range from 30 centimeters (1 foot) to 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) for the deepest corals. It is harvested in the traditional way, by hand, mainly by local fishing families.
This traditional product is still widely consumed by the islanders. Fishing takes place in the morning, and the vana is sold in the afternoon. Depending on the island, the fishermen first fish for their own needs and self-support, then sell the surplus to local restaurants.
Vana fishing know-how is still being passed on through the generations on more isolated islands such as Taha’a. However, the tradition is being lost and can become problematic on some of the busier islands such as Tahiti.
There is no seasonality to the vana fishery, but because it is carried out in addition to a more lucrative lobster fishery, the latter may be subject to rahui, a regulation that prohibits fishing during the early months of the breeding season, in other words March, April and May. There are also protected areas where fishing is totally banned for conservation reasons.
Like many marine species, the vana is threatened by rising ocean temperatures, and particularly by the destruction of the coral reefs that form its natural habitat. There is currently no overfishing of vana in French Polynesia; what is at risk is the transmission of fishing skills and traditional knowledge and skills.