It's no secret that we love food and we care about where it comes from. Wherever possible, we try to use local and native produce, without causing damage to the environment. Despite our efforts in sustainability and traceability, we realised we knew very little about the work happening to protect our native lobsters from their harsh habitat, so we revelled in the opportunity of going to visit the National Lobster Hatchery in Cornwall.
Jamie took an overnight sleeper train to Bodmin Parkway, which was an experience in itself, it must be said! The small cabin wasn't exactly of the Orient Express-style glamour he expected, but eventually he did manage to get a few hours' kip. When he arrived, he made his way over to the lovely Woodlands Country House Hotel, where he was served a delicious breakfast by the locally well-known and charming chef, Hugo Woolley. Hugo has written a book about breakfasts, and rightly so, because Jamie was very impressed by the wonderful bacon and the deep yellow eggs. After breakfast, at about 8:30am, Clare from the lobster hatchery picked him up and there began Jamie's educational journey about lobsters.
A female lobster spawns about 12,000 eggs over a three-day period, but 99% of them will never become fully-fledged lobsters, as much of the larvae will be eaten by other lobsters. Even if the eggs do hatch and the lobster babies start to grow, they will begin to eat each other, resulting in a very low survival rate. Who knew these crustaceans had such cannibalistic instincts! The forward thinking compassionate people at the hatchery are constantly researching lobsters and how best to conserve their stocks and allow them to thrive in their natural environment.
Jamie found the process of lobster rearing fascinating from beginning to end. Spawning females are kept in a tank, and when the temperate of the water is just right, the eggs (smaller than grains of caviar) are released. The eggs are attracted to a light in the corner of the tank, and are collected carefully using plastic mesh strainers. They are separated and kept suspended in cones of swirling seawater for a few weeks to grow and develop without fear of being devoured!
The baby lobsters are reared on a nutritious diet of live brine shrimp, frozen copepods, krill and mysiad shrimp, and later, dried survival-boosting pellets every other day, which have been formulated specially from the research done by the hatchery. The colours of the lobster change, depending on what food they have eaten! When they are slightly bigger, they get put into individual hives where they can continue to grow, until, after around three months (when they are the size of about half a thumb), they are released into the Cornish sea.
The National Lobster Hatchery are the only organisation in the world who are doing this kind of work and it's down to their efforts that the lobster survival rate is now thriving. Jamie found all of it so incredibly interesting - it's such a worthwhile endeavour and we can't thank them enough for helping to conserve our native lobster stocks. Do pay them a visit if you can!
Follow the National Lobster Hatchery on Twitter at @PadstowLobster