LOBSTER thermidor may soon be as common a feature of restaurant menus as salmon steaks. Lobster ranching is now a practical possibility on British coasts and fishermen in several areas are getting together to farm the creatures.
Baby lobsters grown in the laboratory and released into the sea have been recovered years later at full size, showing that ranching is now feasible. Lobsters grown at research centres in Scotland and Wales have been released when they were 2ins long with minute radio bugs inserted in their tails. The releases, made at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast, and Aberystwyth in Wales have produced returns of 80 per cent in a few areas, convincing fishermen that profits are possible from such schemes.
Malcolm Gillespie, a scientist at the Marine Farming Station of the Seafish Industry Authority in Ardtoe, Argyll, said: 'The main problem we have had is that young lobsters are cannibalistic. If you try to raise them together in one large cage they just eat each other.'
So they are kept in solitary confinement in the laboratory. After six months, when they are about 2ins long, they are released by a diver near the rock beds which are their natural home.
Catches of lobsters have been declining in recent years showing the need for re-stocking. The Orkney Islands Council is interested in sponsoring lobster cultivation and groups in Northumbria, Wales, Devon and Cornwall are beginning to get schemes together. But, if they are to be practicable the lobster beds must be protected by law giving exclusive fishing rights to those who pay to raise the creatures.
The baby lobsters can be raised in hatcheries for about 30p to 50p per animal and five or six years later they are worth pounds 3- pounds 4 each.
'After five or six years a lobster weighs about three-quarters of a pound,' said Mr Gillespie. 'That's just the right weight for lobster thermidor.'