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FEATURE

POTENTIAL FOR
EUROPEAN LOBSTER
MARICULTURE
by, Dr Carly Daniels and Charlie Ellis,
The National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow, UK

Photo: Dr Carly Daniels, Research and Development


Officer at the National Lobster Hatchery, holds a
juvenile European lobster reared in a sea-based
container culture system in Cornwall, UK

18 | May | June 2016 - International Aquafeed

FEATURE

containers moored at sea. Sea-based container culture (SBCC)


he European lobster (Homarus
avoids many of the rearing costs associated with aquaria-based
gammarus) is an ecologically important
operations, and is currently the focus of research aiming to
species of the North-eastern Atlantic
enhance the effectiveness of stocking programs and initiate a
which supports wild trap fisheries that
novel mariculture sector.
are worth around 30 million each
year to the UK alone. By weight the
species is the highest-value seafood
The National Lobster Hatchery
among those landed regularly in the
As global demand for seafood grows, we require a more
UK and Ireland, where 75 percent of
thorough understanding of methods designed to enhance the
the ~5,000t annual landings for the species are made. As such,
abundance of high value species, restore depleted fisheries,
lobsters provide essential diversity to fragile inshore fisheries and
and build resilience and sustainability into seafood supply.
vital income for rural coastal economies. However, populations
The work of the National Lobster Hatchery (NLH) in Padstow,
across its range are pressured by rising exploitation, from which
UK, focusses upon these pressing issues. The NLH is a charity
traditional fisheries management has failed to prevent extensive
focussing on conservation, education and research, established
regional stock collapses in the recent past, and now struggles to
in 2000 with the goal of undertaking stock enhancement to help
stimulate recovery. While lobsters have long been transported
support the sustainability of the local H. gammarus fishery.
as a live export commodity, chiefly to France and the Iberian
Recent years have seen substantial advances in the charitys
peninsula, emerging markets, particularly those in East Asia,
outputs, with over 150,000 juvenile lobsters admixed into local
threaten to create additional demand for the species which
stocks around the coasts of Cornwall and the nearby Isles of
far exceeds current capture yields. Improvements in hatchery
Scilly since 2009. A harbour side visitor centre, from which
rearing success have seen a number
of recent aquaculture initiatives
Lobsters share their rearing
containers with a diverse
employed, in the hope of both
community of organisms which
generating restoration and improved
settle around them and provide
plentiful food. Self-seeded scallops
sustainability of wild harvests, and
readily co-habit with lobsters,
instigating commercial aquaculture
raising the prospect of multi-species
shellfish culture.
possibilities.
Of the three major aquaculture
practices resource enhancement,
product enhancement, and full
grow-out the majority of hatchery
culture of H. gammarus has been
applied via resource enhancement,
the improvement of wild capture
harvests via the release of hatcheryreared juveniles (hatchery
stocking, including both restocking
and stock enhancement). These
strategies should be well suited to
H. gammarus, a high-value, fecund
species with planktonic early
life-stages which are presumed to be subject to considerable
visitors can view the hatchery rearing process, routinely attracts
recruitment bottlenecks in nature, and monitored trials have
over 43,000 people per year, and has been complemented in
demonstrated a proof-of-principle of hatchery stocking.
recent years by an outreach programme that visits schools,
Having been reared from the clutches of wild-mated females,
universities and community groups to introduce seafood
considerable numbers of released lobsters have been recovered
conservation issues and highlight the need for sustainable
in the wild, having survived, attained maturity, and mated
fisheries and aquaculture.
successfully across multiple locations and ecotypes across a
The project also supports a specialist research team, who have
broad section of the species range, although direct economic
helped further our understanding of wild lobster biology via a
viability of the approach is still to be rigorously assessed.
range of ecological studies, as well as providing biotechnical
Product enhancement, the captive on-growth of wild-captured
advances to improve and stabilise hatchery production. The NLH
stock to improve marketability, as is practice in Tuna aquaculture, is a founding member of ELCE the European Lobster Centre
is at present prevented in European Lobster by a lack of necessity
of Excellence a network of specialists in lobster biology and
combined with of our enduring inability to locate wild H.
culture who collaborate in research and meet to share knowledge
gammarus juveniles and strict fishery minimum landing sizes.
and experiences to further the shared goals of developing lobster
Technological progress has raised the possibility that fullconservation, stocking and aquaculture programmes. The NLH
grow out aquaculture may soon attain commercial applications.
research team is now attracting national and international
Encouraging developments in recent years have seen the captive
recognition for its work tackling some of the remaining barriers
culture of European lobster to marketable sizes in Norway, whose to the development of clawed lobster aquaculture.
own wild fishery was decimated by stock collapse in the middle
of the twentieth century. Considerable complications arise from
The Lobster-Grower projects
the species slow growth rate and willingness to cannibalise when
The NLH has spent a proportion of the past the past six years
confined communally in captivity, but significant potential has
investigating the potential for rearing lobsters at sea in container
been identified in the mariculture of hatchery-reared juveniles in
systems, following initial success with clawed lobsters across
International Aquafeed - May | June 2016 | 19

FEATURE

Dr Carly Daniels, Research


and Development Officer
at the National Lobster
Hatchery, deploys a
mature stack of rearing
containers in Cornwall, UK,
under the watchful eye
of Mr Gary Rawle, who is
hosting the lobster rearing
trials at his Westcountry
Mussels of Fowey shellfish
farm.

several countries during the previous decade. In 2014, the NLH


engaged a diverse consortium of expert partners to assist in
the development of the equipment and techniques required to
pioneer and evaluate the mariculture of hatchery-reared lobster
juveniles. This project, named Lobster Grower and jointly
funded by Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), designed and lab
tested bespoke containers compatible with the developmental
requirements of lobsters and integration into existing UK
mariculture operations, a step further on from previous trials
which focussed on the use of oyster spat containers.
A follow-up project, Lobster Grower 2, has now been
awarded by the same funders, allowing the diverse set of
partners to field-test these bespoke containers. Alongside
the NLH, the University of Exeter, Westcountry Mussels of
Fowey (WMoF), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and
Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and Falmouth University
will be investigating the performance of these novel
rearing containers to support semi-intensive lobster culture
in the ocean environment. Over the next three years the
consortium will be assisting WMoF to rear lobsters alongside
their existing rope-grown bivalve culture operations, and
developing and testing novel systems for securing containers.
An extensive environmental monitoring program will help
reveal the influence of environmental conditions on the growth
and survival of lobsters, as well as detecting any impacts of
lobster culture on the surrounding ecosystem. Biological,
ecological and hydrodynamic data arising from the project
will be combined with information on social, operational and
financial requirements to create an aqua-economic model
which will be available to potential industry start-ups to help
predict production and economic returns.

Benefits of Sea Based Container Culture

SBCC has significant advantages over recirculation-based


rearing methods, which are often associated with high capital
and operational costs, including: having no continuous energy

costs, no immediate need for valuable seafront buildings,


and even no requirement for processed feed; the lobsters
are thought to initially feed on planktonic organisms before
subsisting on animals and algae which settle on and encrust
the container. Some trials have suggested that growth and
survival rates in SBCC can exceed those attained in hatchery
on-growing vessels, despite SBCC lobsters experiencing lower
average temperatures. Rearing lobsters at sea also appears
to promote natural behaviours, and traits that are likely to be
important to wild survival. The performance of maricultured
lobsters in these trials raises hopes that the SBCC method
could provide a dual opportunity to develop sustainability
and resilience in the lobster supply chain; as well as raising
the possibility of initiating aquaculture applications, rearing
at sea may well fulfil an important role in the ecological
conditioning of hatchery lobsters destined for wild release.
Although hatchery lobsters innately develop some behaviours
which are critical to their post-release survival, settlement
success is enhanced by adaptation to the natural environment,
and the comparatively enriched semi-wild SBCC environment
appears to promote attributes which are likely to enhance the
effectiveness of stock enhancement and restocking schemes,
increasing their overall benefit to fishery recruitment.
As well as supporting the development of juvenile lobsters,
SBCC systems provide an ideal settlement environment for a
variety of other valuable shellfish species, including mussels
and scallops, inviting the prospect that they could support
multi-species coastal mariculture operations of considerable
value and exceptional sustainability credentials. While no
lobsters have yet been reared to current fisheries landing sizes
in SBCC systems, there may be considerable appetite among
consumers and luxury seafood suppliers for lobsters which are
slightly smaller than those currently accessible to the fishery.
The realisation of commercial-scale lobster mariculture
could facilitate this market diversification and help to offset
pressure on dwindling natural stocks, and the NLH hopes to
be at the forefront of efforts to conserve both the species wild
populations and the livelihoods of coastal communities who
target them.

20 | May | June 2016 - International Aquafeed

FEATURE

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International Aquafeed - May | June 2016 | 21