A lobster hatchery in the fishing village of Padstow in Cornwall says it has a novel scheme to re-populate seas of the south-west with thousands of the threatened crustaceans – but needs the help of willing divers.
The respected National Lobster Hatchery aims to boost the lobster population by hatching them under controlled conditions.
If the lobsters were left to hatch in the wild, the hatchery says, then only about 1 in 20,000 would reach adulthood. After three months in a nursery, the 2.5cm-long lobsters are to be released to specific sites around the south-west coast – which is where the divers come in.
They will carry hundreds of the juvenile lobsters down to the seabed, where they will be released together to give them the best chance of survival. Lobsters have a notoriously low survival rate in the early stages of their life cycle and are vulnerable to numerous predators.
The female lobster will carry fertilised eggs under her tail from between nine to 12 months until they hatch into a larval stage. Some experts estimate that of the thousands of eggs released by the mother, only 0.1 per cent will make it past the first four weeks of life to grow into adults. As if that wasn't enough, the blue-blooded crustaceans are also threatened by overfishing.
However, if the lobsters are raised in the hatchery, their chances of survival are vastly increased.
Apart from using divers, the hatchery also takes the lobsters down to the shore at low tide and releases them, and also uses fishermen.
The fishermen put trays of lobsters into lobster pots and lowers them to the seabed, where, the hatchery says, they are protected by the pot while being able to crawl out of the trays and on to the gravel below.
Another method is to use a tube, where the lobsters are piped directly on to the seabed.
As the hatchery says: "We nurture them through their most vulnerable stage in their life cycle (when they are part of the plankton) where there are a lot of predators."
The problem the hatcheries have is that it's impossible to tell whether the lobsters have grown up in the wild or are from the release scheme.
The solution US researchers came up with was essentially to release as many as possible in the hope of seeing a rise in overall numbers, a strategy which the hatchery in Padstow is also following.
If ever a town needed lobsters, it's Padstow. Known to some as "Padstein", it's home to several of Rick Stein's seafood restaurants. It remains to be seen whether the hatchery can keep pace with rapacious diners' desire for lobster.