Foras na Mara

Marine Institute research breeds new life into lobster stocks

 

Oyster cages containing lobsters, Clew Bay

An EU project organised between Ireland, Spain and Norway may have found a way to secure the future of lobster stocks in European waters. 

Under the ‘AquaReg’ programme that began over 4 years ago, the project team, coordinated by Alan Drumm of the Marine Institute, have come up with an innovative way to increase the cost effectiveness of producing juvenile lobsters with little or no environmental impact.  

The project, which is still in its pilot phase in Ireland, originally focused on using Irish and Norwegian expertise to design a cost efficient method of producing juvenile lobsters in Galicia, where over fishing in the region has led to a significant decline in lobster stocks.  

 “The traditional method of producing juvenile lobsters using land based systems where they have to be fed individually has always been labour intensive and expensive,” explains Alan.   Instead, the project team is using individual sea cages suspended in a food rich environment, such as a mussel farm, where lobsters can feed naturally between mussel lines without any further human intervention.  

Trials in Galicia in Spain and in three different locations in Ireland have proven extremely successful for the production of juvenile lobsters. Aside from the cost effectiveness of this technique, it also allows the juvenile lobsters to grow to a relatively large size with minimal human contact. Feeding on natural plankton provides them with a more balanced diet and produces a more natural colouration.  

In Ireland, though we have a reasonably healthy population of lobster compared with project partners Spain and Norway, restocking could be very useful in areas where there is a lack of supply of juvenile lobsters. “‘What we are doing now is developing the tools that can be used for stock enhancement, and it’s good to know the option is there if we need it” says Alan.  

According to the project’s lead scientist Dr. Ronan Browne of NUI Galway, lobsters have a very slow growth rate, hate breeding in captivity, have a low survival rate and are famous for their highly cannibalistic tendencies. Attempts to rear lobsters in a cost efficient way has been attempted for hundreds of years with mixed and often disappointing results.

“The next stage of the project is critical,” says Ronan. “The survival rate of juvenile lobsters released into the wild will dictate the commercial viability of a lobster restocking programme. All eggs used in a restocking programme would come from locally caught females so our native lobsters will still breed naturally along the Irish coast while their offspring will be reared through the programme to increase their chances of survival.”  

Ends  

Notes to Editor  

‘AquaReg’   AquaReg is a €4.8m partnership between the Border Midlands Western (BMW) Region of Ireland, Galicia in Spain, and Trøndelag in Norway which was launched in 2003. It tackles key issues for the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry such as research into the cultivation of new species, education and training for the aquaculture industry and improved coastal zone planning and management.  

The AquaReg programme addresses the need to reach beyond volume expansion of the aquaculture industry by identifying opportunities for science–based diversification and innovation. It promotes education and training, exchange of personnel, students and researchers; and increased workforce mobility between European coastal regions. It also addresses the need for integrated spatial planning and management of the coastal zone and aims to create a basis for a biologically and commercially sustainable industry through exchange of experience and best practice between planning authorities at local and regional level.  

AquaReg, is administered in Ireland by the Marine Institute, was established to promote innovation and business development; stimulate sustainable development in aquaculture; and create employment in aquaculture for peripheral coastal communities. Working in partnership, representatives from these three regions aim to make more efficient use of the experience and knowledge of aquaculturists, fishermen and scientists, across regional and national borders.