The National Lobster Hatchery are appealing for anyone who might be able to take tiny harmless samples of lobsters caught anywhere around Spain, Portugal or SW France.

In recent years, the Hatchery has collaborated with two PhD researchers, Charlie Ellis and Tom Jenkins at the University of Exeter, to try to understand the genetic structure of European lobsters. To continue their important work, the scientists are now urgently seeking tissue samples from clawed lobsters caught in the countries south of Britain, where they do not currently have enough samples to properly detail the pattern of genetic structure.

Knowledge of genetic structure is absolutely crucial to lobster conservation efforts, as it reveals the boundaries of where one population ends and another begins, and can be used to infer all sorts of fundamental biological factors, such as how far larvae drift in the wild, which other regions contribute to the settlement of new lobsters in any particular area, and how far lobsters can be moved for hatchery releases without them impacting adaptations evolved to prosper in the local environment. Charlie and Tom have already made some important discoveries, such as the pronounced divergence between lobsters in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and the more subtle differences that separate the lobsters of the UK and Ireland from those across the North Sea in Scandinavia.

Through collaborators at other research stations, Charlie and Tom have been able to obtain lobster tissue samples from La Rochelle in Western France, Vigo in Northwestern Spain, and Sardinia in the Med, but lobsters are known to range all the way down to Morocco, so there are still some big gaps on their sampling map. Tissue sampling involves clipping a small section from the end of one of a lobster’s pleopods (the flappy paddles on the underside of the tail), which does not harm the lobster, and placing this in a small tube of ethanol to preserve the DNA. Sampling kits with instructions and equipment can be posted to anyone willing and able to conduct sampling. The process only takes about 1 minute per lobster, and our researchers are seeking tissue clips from at least 20 (but ideally 40) lobsters per area to comprise one ‘geographic sample’. The sampling would be particularly well-suited to anyone who is or knows a lobster fisherman or seafood merchant, or anyone with access to live lobsters at a seafood market, although it is important to check the origins of any lobsters sourced in this way, since much of the lobster sold throughout Europe has actually been imported from the UK and Ireland.

If anyone thinks they may be able to help, then please contact Dr Charlie Ellis on