Precious on a plate

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 March 2014

CWL MAR 14 food feature DPS

CWL MAR 14 food feature DPS


Padstow’s National Lobster Hatchery is heading to London this month to raise awareness of its vital work in protecting our precious sea-dwelling foodstuffs

CWL MAR 14 food feature DPSCWL MAR 14 food feature DPS

Think pet – and most of us probably think of something furry with come-and-stroke-me eyes, but Padstow’s Lobster Hatchery’s adopt-a-lobster is having surprising success – and even for those who prefer to eat them, there’s a win-win through their: buy one, set one free: a scheme that restaurants and fishmongers are signing up for to protect Cornwall’s precious foodstuff.

The most valuable fish caught in the UK, the European lobster is worth £30 million a year to the economy. But its value in Cornwall also comes from the industry’s support of the coastal harbour communities that rely on fishing.

This month will see a fundraising Grand Hatter’s Tea Party take place on St Piran’s Day (5 March) in Kensington Roof Gardens in London where 200 guests will help to raise funds for the work of the hatchery. The event is supported by Royal Milliner John Boyd and legendary fashion designer Peter Crown OBE and will include an exclusive catwalk show previewing John Boyd’s much anticipated spring/summer collection in mind of Ascot.

So here comes the science bit: The National Lobster Hatchery is a marine conservation, research and education charity focusing on the European lobster. Their work helps increase survival rates by 1,000-fold and their success has earned them a place on the global stage.

CWL MAR 14 food feature DPSCWL MAR 14 food feature DPS

But far from petitioning to stop people eating lobster, the hatchery is promoting sustainability. This protects the lobster from stock collapse, as has happened in Scandinavia where stocks completely collapsed and have still not recovered.

Working with fishermen who bring in pregnant females - in Cornwall there is a bylaw preventing fishermen from landing egg carrying female lobsters (berried hens) within a six-mile limit – the hatchery houses the hens in their broodstock facility until the eggs hatch and the mother lobsters are then returned to their owner.

A single female spawns up to 12,000 eggs over a three-day period. The larvae is then suspended in constantly recirculating seawater for several weeks – and fed various seafoods. Those that pass this phase are juvenile and ready to live alone – growing on separately avoids cannibalism and fighting. As the lobster moults and increases in size they are transferred to larger on-growing containers because their growth can be stunted when living in a confined space. When full, the hatchery can house 4,000 juveniles and almost 20,000 juveniles will spend up to three months with them before being released.

Out front there is plenty to be seen – the hatchery attracts more than 40,000 visitors each year and is supported by volunteers. The visitor centre 
gives a peek behind the scenes at the various stages of the lobsters from eggs to juveniles and there are exhibits of mature lobsters and the Burt the Spider Crab which are endlessly fascinating to watch. Head for the Little Shop of Lobsters, where among other things you can adopt a lobster - or come away with Snappy, the lifelike rubber lobster (we recommend the chocolate lobster) or a copy of Claude gets His Claws, a children’s book that can teach an adult or two about the lifecycle of lobsters.

Lovely lobster facts

-A female lobster can carry around 20,000 eggs under their abdomen, however, only one of these is expected to survive in the wild. With the application of modern technology the survival rate is improved by about 1,000 times. Eggs are laid between August and October, but remain attached to their mother under their tail until they are ready to hatch between March and September.

-Lobster eggs begin life dark green in colour, and change to black as they get closer to hatching before turning red when they hatch.

-The hatchery releases tens of thousands of juvenile lobsters each year - and the number is rising

The Lobster Hatchery is open seven days a week. Entry is £3.75 adults / £1.50 children.

Latest from the Cornwall Life