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United Kingdom

The National Lobster Hatchery

   

 

 The three-year, Lobster Grower 2 (LG2) project is led by the National Lobster Hatchery (NLH), a stock-enhancement charity whose primary goal is to supplement the stocks of wild lobsters (Homaras gammarus) in southwest England.  The collaborative venture is a critical step in assessing the potential of a passive and ecologically enriched method of growing lobsters—which is semi-intensive, yet produces relatively low carbon emissions.  And it could make strides towards developing a new and impressively sustainable aquaculture sector in the UK.

 

Dr. Carly Daniels, principal investigator of the National Lobster Hatchery’s latest project, said, “the knowledge and expertise gained through developing...growing techniques for stock enhancement could help to develop a whole new industry that potential investors and farmers could take forward.”

 

Dr. Daniels has been involved with NLH since 2004.  Her current project, LG2, includes an investigation that could prove significant, not only for the UK’s aquaculture industry, but also for seafood consumers in general, as it might lead to the creation of a novel shellfish product (below).  The project will assess whether it is possible to grow one of the most valuable (by weight) species of seafood in the UK, utilizing techniques similar to those that produce the lowest-value species (mussels), in passive, environmentally friendly rearing systems.

 

Set up primarily to support the local lobster-fishing industry, NLH concentrates on hatching eggs from gravid females caught by local fishermen, keeping them within the safety of the hatchery during their vulnerable larval phase, before releasing them as comparatively robust juveniles back into the sea around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  The researchers have also been experimenting with growing juveniles for longer—and to larger sizes—in some different sea-based systems.

 

“We began...growing lobsters—to about three months old—on a small scale about six years ago, following some promising research conducted by Dr. Brian Beal in the USA and other researchers in Spain and Ireland,” said Dr. Daniels.  “For instance, unlike the American lobsters, no one...knows what juvenile European lobsters eat in the wild.  We know they live in burrows for up to two years as juveniles, but scientific trials to find them in the wild have had limited success, and thus most of the information we have comes from the American clawed lobster.”

 

Despite the researchers facing some important unknowns—such as the preferred diets of juvenile lobsters—it seems that, given the right sort of container and the right location, the lobsters can largely look after themselves.

 

“It’s important to have a system with sufficient surface area and plenty of through-flow, as this will give them room to feed and for potential feed items to pass through and settle in the containers,” says Dr. Daniels.  “The flow rate and water quality are both very important, but in the right conditions, there’s a diverse array of organisms—from worms to crabs to shrimp to algae—that settle on the containers and can act as feed.”  The lobsters don’t require any supplementary feed!

 

As the trials have progressed, so too have the designs of the lobster-rearing systems, and the first cohort of over 15,000 lobsters was stocked into novel containers last year.

 

“We started out using oyster spat trays,” Dr. Daniels said, “but this work highlighted the need for a system specifically designed for lobsters and their needs, as such we’ve since developed specific designs suitable for...growing lobsters, following hydrodynamic testing of several different designs in the lab in our previous project, Lobster Grower 1.  We’re now using the second generation of these tailor-made systems and the lobsters seem to be thriving, feeding themselves on a variety of plant and animal species that drift through, or settle on, their rearing system.”

 

To help with the practical side of things, NLH has teamed up with a local bivalve producer, Westcountry Mussels of Fowey, whose role in the project is to install and maintain the lobster-rearing systems in an area adjoining the company’s mussel site in St Austell Bay.

 

“Our previous small-scale...growing studies involved trialing the oyster spat baskets in six different sites around the coast of Cornwall,” says Dr. Daniels, “and we found that those lobsters situated in more estuarine areas, with comparatively heavy siltation levels, fared less well compared to near-shore sites, like St Austell Bay, where growth and survival rates were better.”

 

As well as being able to offer a very attractive site for the trials, the partnership with a commercial aquaculture operator has, according to Dr. Daniels, also shown the huge potential of farming lobsters alongside other species.

 

The project is going to investigate whether there’s a market for relatively small lobsters!

 

“It’s great to be able to work with Westcountry Mussels—not only have they helped with the installation and maintenance of the systems, but the partnership is also showing how lobster...growing can be integrated with other existing aquaculture activities,” says Dr. Daniels.  “This is perhaps one of the parts of the project that excites me the most—it both helps to reduce the costs of establishing a lobster-growing operation and shows the possibility of integrating the culture of numerous species.”

 

“The farm could act like an artificial reef, supporting a very diverse community—from sedentary species such as scallops and seaweed to motile species of fish and crabs that can use it as a sanctuary,” says Dr. Daniels.  “And we’re currently conducting an environmental assessment on both the benthic habitat and the motile species around the site.”

 

“If the lobsters were not being reared for a scientific trial, it is possible that–in the right location–they would only need to be checked and graded once a year,” Dr. Daniels said.  “And the whole Lobster Grower 2 project, which will rear 45,000 lobsters over the next three years, only needs six, 200-meter mussel longlines.”

 

If the growing trials continue to run smoothly, perhaps the biggest question that remains is whether a market for three-year-old lobsters—which are not much larger than langoustine—can be developed.  It’s a question that has interested some of the UK’s major retailers, and Dr. Daniels reflects that there has been no shortage of volunteers for taste testing the potential product when the first batch becomes available.

 

“We have some industry parties who have expressed their interest in the project through joining our industrial steering committee, including wholesalers, processors, retailers, restaurateurs, fishermen, managing bodies, aquaculture specialists, trade bodies and NGOs,” she said.  “We’re exploring many different avenues as we try to understand factors such as where best to sell the lobsters and what the optimum size would be.”

 

Whatever the outcome, it seems unlikely that they will be grown to a traditional market size, at least not in the near future.  “Lobsters take five to seven years to grow to the size landed by UK fishermen...a much longer growth period than most shellfish species reared for aquaculture,” says Dr. Daniels.  “This puts off potential investors—not only due to the delay in achieving a financial return, but also as they run the risk of something happening to the lobster stocks in that time.”

 

The researchers point to data suggesting that there is a global market for 50,000 tons of frozen and 70,000 tons of live lobster a year—figures that dwarf Europe’s annual lobster landings of 5,000 tons a year.

 

This article was originally published in the Aqua Nor issue of Sustainable Aquaculture Magazine.

Information: Dr. Carly Daniels, The National Lobster Hatchery, South Quay, Padstow, Cornwall L28 8BL, United Kingdom (phone 01841-533877, fax 0870-7060299, email visitorcentre@nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk, webpage http://www.nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk).

 

Sources: 1. The FishSite.  Promising Results from UK Lobster Hatchery.  Rob Fletcher.  November 20, 2017.    2. The Lobster Newsletter.  Editors, Richard Wahle (rwahle@bigelow.org) and Nick Caputi (nick.caputi@fish.wa.gov.au).  ICWL Session: Aquaculture.  Clive Jones and Andrew Jeffs.  Volume 30, Number 2, Page 28.  December 2017.

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