National Lobster Hatchery bags major research grant for Cornwall and the South West

Dr Carly Daniels

Dr Carly Daniels doing her regular check on juveniles grown at sea, checking weight, growth & survival

The National Lobster Hatchery, based in Padstow, has, along with consortium partners, been awarded funding for a £3m research project from Innovate UK and BBSRC. This will make a series of breakthroughs in the science and technology associated with lobster culture, which will help Europe catch up with the rest of the world in terms of growing its own sea food.

Working with consortium partners that include the University of Exeter, Westcountry Mussels of Fowey, The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and Falmouth University, the three-year project, known as Lobster Grower 2, will focus on the European lobster by developing the technology and science for growing lobsters at sea. It is thought that long term an industry will develop, providing a new product, with a separate market from that supplied by the fishery and therefore creating market diversification and generating additional jobs and wealth in coastal communities.

Lead researcher for the National Lobster Hatchery, Dr Carly Daniels said: “This is the biggest lobster aquaculture research project taking place in Europe at the moment and it’s fantastic that it’s happening here in Cornwall, where it will generate scientific jobs and intellectual capital.”

“Europe is rapidly falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to growing its own seafood and this project is vital in addressing that imbalance. A key component is that lobsters will be grown in systems with no artificial feed inputs. This means that some of the broader sustainability issues sometimes associated with aquaculture (i.e. feeding farmed fish on wild caught fish) do not apply. In a nutshell we are assessing whether it is possible to grow one of the most valuable species (by weight) of seafood in the UK, using similar approaches to those used to grow low value species (such as mussels), in passive, environmentally friendly systems.”

The project will use a sea-based container culture approach (SBCC) specifically developed for the species, in an early stage project, to assess performance and develop holistic application of the systems. The project will run a pilot scale lobster culture site to gather practical, operational, environmental, biological, engineering and economic data that can be used to develop an essential tool to encourage and inform future investment. In terms of environmental credentials, farmed fish and seafood has received its fair share of bad press. This project specifically seeks to address these issues from the outset, undertaking a thorough environmental evaluation of operations.

Dom Boothroyd, General Manager of the National Lobster Hatchery, said: “This project represents a huge step forward for the charity. Firstly it will test and develop the technology needed to grow lobsters to a greater age before releasing them into the sea to enhance wild stocks. Secondly it will help us to generate the intellectual property that will, in the future, help fund the charity’s important research conservation and education work.”

Fowey-based Westcountry Mussels started farming rope grown mussels in estuaries 25 years ago and were approached by the National Lobster Hatchery six years ago to help with the first SBCC trials at their site in St. Austell bay.

“Our site was unique in England for the quality of the water, which is essential for both lobsters and top quality mussels,” said Westcountry Mussels owner Gary Rawle. “We believe this is a great opportunity for a wide and diverse skill set to come together and try something that only a few years ago would have been impossible, yet could now become the future for both lobster farming and enhancing wild stock.”

Innovate UK has teamed up with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to joint fund this industry and academic partnership, through an Agri-Tech Catalyst award.

Professor Lars Johanning, Associate Professor in Ocean Energy and academic lead of the University of Exeter’s Renewable Energy Department, based at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall said: “This pivotal project unlocks the potential for industry specialists and scientists to work together to address global food security in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way. Crucially, it could pave the way not just to providing nutritious food to many millions more people worldwide, but also bring new and exciting employment opportunities as well. The University of Exeter is implementing field studies to study the well-being of the lobsters, potential environmental impacts and leads on engineering developments.”

Dr Yorick Benjamin, Principle Investigator and Director of Sustainable Design at Falmouth University, said: “This is an exciting development for Falmouth that builds upon earlier design research by Adam Stringer and Dr Justin Marshall. Falmouth’s role will be to explore whole system designs and novel products and services that are optimised for real world use in this promising aquaculture project. We will be using observational research, 3D CAD and 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to develop a new preproduction SBCC design and its related systems. This project is very positive in that it brings together a number of Cornwall-based organisations and can potentially lead to new economic activity and knowledge-based jobs in the county. Falmouth is delighted to be a partner in this consortium which aims to create an economically viable and sustainable high protein food.”

Keith Jeffery, Programme Director in Food Security and Aquaculture with CEFAS, said: “This project is an excellent example of what can be achieved when industry, government agencies, engineers and the research sector pull together to address the needs of a specific aquaculture sector. CEFAS will bring its depth of experience in aquatic animal health and pathology and will help to clarify regulatory aspects – thereby contributing to the development of a roadmap for this exciting and high value aquaculture sector.”

The National Lobster Hatchery have also received funding from The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers which has made the project financially viable for the hatchery to lead the project.

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