Series of attacks threatens Dorset's lobster industry

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To the surfers who flock there, it is known simply as 'K-Bay' - a Dorset coastal idyll of pebbled beaches and rocky outcrops set at the edge of the Purbecks. But Kimmeridge Bay's serenity has been shattered by slashed fishing nets and dark threats posted on the internet.

To the surfers who flock there, it is known simply as 'K-Bay' - a Dorset coastal idyll of pebbled beaches and rocky outcrops set at the edge of the Purbecks. But Kimmeridge Bay's serenity has been shattered by slashed fishing nets and dark threats posted on the internet.

Both are the work the Lobster Liberation Front (LLF), which has been delivering a new brand of animal rights activism for the past nine months and warns that its latest attack may not be the last.

In an internet message claiming responsibility for cutting a Kimmeridge fisherman's nets, the group has warned: "Those who find the cruel and merciless boiling alive of innocent life as not only acceptable, but even comical, should start looking over their shoulders." It added: "Needless to say, the scurvy dog who lurks about Kimmeridge Bay, trapping crustacean life so that they can be boiled alive and eaten, must have felt awfully seasick when he found his equipment in the morning."

Nick Ford, a 40-year-old former soldier whose nets were on the receiving end of the attack, said: "They are obviously picking on small fishermen. It's my livelihood. I'm only a one-man band trying to muddle my way through life bringing up my two children."

The LLF is evidently targeting fishermen who need lobster revenues most. The target of its first attack, last summer, was Jonathan Lander, who is continuing his family's five-generation tradition of lobster fishing to help bring up his two young sons.

"I've got nothing else I can do apart from go on the dole," he said. "We've all got bills and loans - what do you do? I'm a single parent and probably the easiest target in the world as I'm not at the boat that often because I'm always looking after the kids."

The activists struck Chapman's Pool, the sheltered bay where Mr Lander moors his boat. In two attacks over a period of days they smashed the engine, ripped the front off the boathouse, broke lobster pots and threw his catch back into the sea, causing about £10,000 damage. Then they went to his home in the village of Worth Matravers and splashed red paint over the walls.

Many of the more moderate animal rights organisations agree with the LLF's sentiments, including the US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). Its "lobster liberation" website, offers helpful "tips" on liberating endangered lobsters from restaurants and supermarkets. Jaren G. Horsley, a zoologist, is quoted concluding that the lobster has a "rather sophisticated nervous system"which allows it to sense actions that will cause it harm.

This view is contradicted by scientists from the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, who recently concluded that lobsters do not feel pain when placed in boiling water a theory supported by studies at Aberdeen University.

Chief Inspector Nicholas Maton of Dorset Police said: "At the end of the day, the fishermen in Dorset are part of a very traditional industry. They are not multi-nationals.

"They need to survive, there is not an awful lot of money in it and they are particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack."

A life on the ocean floor

* Lobsters are bottom-dwelling decapods which venture out mostly at night - mixing brisk crawling over the ocean floor with a clumsy backstroke. Most have a dark green exoskeleton which turns bright red when boiled, but there are also rare blue, yellow, red and white species.

* These cannibalistic scavengers "smell" their food using four small antennae on the front of their heads and sensing hairs on their body. Chewing is done in the stomach, where their teeth can be found.

* A lobster's nervous system is far simpler than most animals. Scientists say it probably doesn't feel pain when boiled alive or jettisoning limbs to escape predators. They have 100,000 neurons - compared with about 100billion in people and other vertebrates.

* An average adult lobster grows to about nine inches long and weighs 1.5kg. Some deepwater specimens reach 20kg.

* As the invertebrate grows, it sheds its protective exoskeleton and a new, larger one forms in its place. It often devours its own shell to replenish lost calcium and help the new shell harden. Larvae shed between 14 and 17 times before reaching full adulthood when they sink to the seabed.

* The "true" lobster shouldn't be confused with the spiny lobster (actually marine crayfish), which lacks claws and has a pair of horns above its eyes.

Oliver Duff

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