HM government ERDF
Home > Case Studies > National Lobster Hatchery

Marine-i helps National Lobster Hatchery to develop an innovation to improve lobster stocks

Marine-i is supporting the National Lobster Hatchery to develop a new kind of larval rearing vessel, which can be used to improve lobster survival in the hatchery and ultimately help support lobster stocks.

The National Lobster Hatchery is a marine conservation, research and education charity based in Padstow, Cornwall, UK. Their work is specifically related to a commercial species – the European Lobster. In the last decade, they have successfully established themselves as a centre of expertise on a global scale. 

A vital element of the National Lobster Hatchery’s work focuses on the larval stage of the lobster lifecycle. In the wild, the survival rate at the larval stage is very low. The National Lobster Hatchery seeks to improve survival at this early, vulnerable stage of the lobster’s life and release them back into the wild at an age where they are less vulnerable and more able to fend for themselves.  

A female lobster can carry in the region of 20,000 eggs under their abdomen. However, only one of these is expected to survive in the wild. With skilful and careful application of modern technology, the National Lobster Hatchery can improve this survival rate by about 1,000 times.

Lobsters are worth a huge amount in terms of both their economic and social importance. Consequently, they are subject to considerable fishing pressure and vulnerable to catastrophic stock collapse. The species is the most valuable fish caught in the UK and is part of a major export industry. This one species alone is worth £30m each year and without it, some small coastal communities would have very little, other than tourism, to create jobs and keep their harbours alive.

Despite being a high value species, the European Lobster is not currently fully exploited in the aquaculture sector and only a small proportion of the potential market for this species can be  met by capture fisheries. Research led by the National Lobster Hatchery has shown potential for sea-based aquaculture of the species which could help to meet the current supply deficit.

This new project aims improve hatchery technology and the early stage culture of lobsters to support stock enhancement and bring lobster aquaculture closer to commercial reality. Current larval rearing technology is based on methods used for non-commercial stock enhancement and, as such, little has changed in lobster larvae production technology over the last 50 years. The National Lobster Hatchery team believes there is scope for innovative improvements to the technology used, in order to optimise the rearing processes.

Dr Carly Daniels of the National Lobster Hatchery explains:

“We currently use modified conical vessels to keep the larvae in suspension. The work to develop these included support from the Falmouth University Launchpad scheme, through which a physical design for the container was originally developed. Now, based on our own preliminary work, we believe that it may be possible to create an enhanced larval vessel with modified conditions, enabling greater survival rates. Marine-i are working closely with us to develop a new kind of vessel which builds on the findings of our internal tests”.

Marine-i partner, University of Plymouth, is leading on the investigation of the optimum materials for manufacture. 

Ruadan Geraghty from University of Plymouth, says:

“We are carrying out exhaustive research into the best materials to deliver the ultimate aim of improved lobster larval survival. We are aiming for materials to be sustainable and recyclable, as well as sufficiently robust to withstand the rigors of the marine environment.”

Once the final materials are selected, Marine-i will develop a prototype. The National Lobster Hatchery will then look to test the prototype in the hatchery from the start of the new larval season in May 2022, and with the help of Marine-i partner, University of Exeter.

Carly adds: “We will measure its success primarily in terms of larval survival rates during the larval cycle. If the new larval vessel is proven to achieve higher survival rates than the vessels we currently use, then we will look to move to large scale production of the new vessels for future use.

“This would be a very exciting outcome. The National Lobster Hatchery is one of only very few organisations worldwide which is investigating how innovative improvements can be made in this area.”

Professor Lars Johanning, Programme Director for Marine-i, says: 

“Marine-i are delighted to be supporting this important innovation. This could help meet the challenge of  global food security for future generations as well as strengthen the local economy. If successful, the new larval vessel is likely to have worldwide applications, not only for use by other lobster hatcheries, but also for larval survival of similar crustacean species such as crabs and other lobster species.

“We are looking forward to helping the National Lobster Hatchery break new ground, accelerating the innovation through the academic and research expertise within the Marine-i partnership.”

[Image: Ben Ellis]