Overview of Lobster Grower 2
Through funding from Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), this project will investigate the use of sea-based container culture (SBCC) as a low-carbon method for rearing lobsters, with no feed costs. Researchers will use containers specifically designed for lobsters, developed in an early stage project, to assess performance and develop holistic application of SBCC systems. Lobster Grower 2 will run a pilot-scale lobster culture site to gather practical, operational, environmental, biological, economic and social data that can be used to develop an aqua-economic model to encourage and inform future investment. It is thought that in the long-term an industry could develop, providing a new product, with a separate market from that supplied by the current lobster fishery. This would create market diversification and generate additional jobs and wealth in coastal communities as well as putting the UK at the forefront of aquaculture developments, benefiting the UK economy.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector in the world, accounting for more than 50% of the world’s consumed fish. Static or declining production from capture fisheries means that aquaculture is key in meeting the escalating demand for seafood associated with a rapidly growing human population and a growth of the world’s middle classes. Accordingly, the next decade is expected to see an 8% rise in global seafood consumption, highlighting the importance of aquaculture diversification and development.
The European lobster is a high value species, not currently exploited in the aquaculture sector. In 2004 it was estimated that only 4.3% of demand was being met and the estimated market was around 70,000 and 50,000 tonnes of live and frozen product respectively. Supply of this species is limited to approximately 5,000 tonnes per year coming from capture fisheries based mostly in the UK and Ireland. High profit margins, combined with a significant supply deficit, make the European lobster a promising candidate aquaculture species.
Until recently, the majority of lobster aquaculture has taken place in Recircuclating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), hatching and rearing lobster larvae through the vulnerable early life stages for release as juveniles for stock enhancement processes. This is a very labour intensive practice and is costly in energy as the juvenile lobsters need to be kept individually due to cannibalism. Trials in Norway at the Norwegian Lobster Farm (Drengstig and Bergheim, 2013) utilising RAS combined with robotic systems have recently illustrated the potential for lobster farming, but there is still a lack of appropriate technological development in systems design and is not economically viable.
When competing with low technology sea-based systems, land based RAS usually prove uneconomic (due to higher capital and operating costs) and as a consequence a sea-based approach is likely to be a preferred option. Preliminary sea-based trials conducted by The National Lobster Hatchery (NLH) (using containers designed for rearing oyster spat) have already taken place in several coastal locations around Cornwall (Daniels et al., 2015). Prior to this study, research was conducted into rearing lobsters in sea-based systems off the coast of Ireland and Spain (Perez-Benavente et al, 2010). These studies have established: 1) Low energy costs, 2) Zero feed costs 3) Fixed unit cost of production (compared to an escalating cost against time in land based culture) and 4) Good short term survival and growth rates. SBCC systems, therefore, hold the potential to deliver a low-carbon system for sustainable aquaculture, providing a valuable human protein source at minimal unit cost and this is what Lobster Grower 2 intends to identify.