Culture of Spiny Lobsters
Spiny lobsters are harvested from the wild in many countries worldwide and are especially popular in oriental cuisines. Over-harvesting of natural populations in the wild has decimated natural stocks, driving up the cost of lobsters. Poseidon has developed a technology for the culture of lobsters from post-larval stages (pueruli), plus the artificial feeds necessary to grow lobsters to commercial size in totally artificial systems.
A variety of spiny lobsters, Panulirus sp., can be found in the Indo Pacific region. Unlike the American lobster, the spiny lobster does not have strong big claws to crush its prey and protect itself from enemies. Instead, the spiny lobster possesses long armored antennae that are used to whip its predators and prey. Sometimes called crawfish, crayfish, rock lobster or langouste, this lobster is characterized by a spine-studded shell.
In the Indo-Pacific region, spiny lobsters are caught by divers and maintained in net enclosures in seawater prior to sale in live seafood markets in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan and Japan. Outside of this region, major resources of spiny lobsters are located in Australia and in the Caribbean. High demand for spiny lobsters has created a lucrative market. As a result, harvesting from the wild has depleted lobster populations in major areas in Southeast Asia and is threatening wild populations in others.
The world catch for lobsters is 77,000 metric tons valued at US $500 million. Approximately 38,000 metric tons are derived from wild caught spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus, native to the Caribbean. The high export demand has been a major economic benefit to many island nations of the Caribbean. However, over-harvesting and destructive fishing practices, along with the degradation of the natural habitat from pollution and human activities have acted in concert to cause a precipitous decline in the wild populations, threatening the current lobster market’s long-term sustainability. In the Caribbean, the spiny lobster fishery has been on a continuing decline for the same reasons, resulting in lost job opportunities and falling revenue in the fisheries sector.
The Company believes that a revival of lobster populations is possible through the development of an aquaculture industry that enables production of spiny lobsters through artificial means and through a proactive stock replenishment scheme that re-supplies the natural habitat with cultured spiny lobsters. The good news is that while the supply of the lobster catch stagnates, the demand for fresh and frozen lobster continues to grow creating a favorable market price. This supply/demand ratio is essential in attracting the investment community to finance a viable lobster aquaculture industry.
Conservation measures are now actively enforced to limit the size of the catch and to prevent harvesting gravid (pregnant) females. Another way to prevent over-harvesting is to develop aquaculture techniques that will allow production of lobsters in commercial quantities. As part of this effort, Nova Pacific, an R&D group of Poseidon, completed a three-year research and development program that enabled semi-commercial scale culture of post-larvae and juveniles to legal market size in land-based raceways and artificial seawater ponds.
The Lobster Aquaculture Industry
While other commercial aquaculture ventures have been able to replicate the hatching of larvae in an artificial environment, this has yet to be achieved with lobster larvae. The Company believes that over time and with financial support, it can develop this technology by applying its research and development efforts to the delicate process of hatching and culturing spiny lobster larvae.
The reason commercial lobsters have not yet come from a hatchery is due to their complicated life cycle. The eggs hatch as tiny spider-like transparent larvae (also known as phyllosoma). The larval (phyllosoma) phase involves 11 distinct morphological stages and up to 17 molts over 12 to 24 months. Culture of phyllosoma to pueruli stage has been successfully achieved in Japan and New Zealand in very small numbers.
Hatchery development is still many years away from commercial success. However, free-swimming larvae can be found and harvested from nature. These post-larval forms normally become food for other sea life and only an extremely tiny percentage (less than 3%) are able to survive long enough to settle at the bottom of the rocky sub-sea floor. Technologies to harvest these post-larval forms have been developed and thus will enable the culture of post-larvae to commercial size at a much higher survival rate than in the wild. By returning a percentage of the artificially grown mature lobsters back to the sea, stock replenishment in concert with prudent conservation measures will ensure a healthy, prolific wild population.
Today, the only way lobster aquaculture can materialize is through collection of pueruli from the wild. This is the main reason commercial aquaculture is in its infancy. Lack of a consistent supply from the wild and a misunderstanding of local fisherman believing that pueruli collection will adversely affect the fisherman’s catch have minimized investment and fisheries department interest to date. One of the main obstacles to creation of this industry is the need for artificial feed technologies to enhance growth and reduce feed cost to acceptable levels.
Australia, New Zealand and Norway are on their way to succeeding in lobster aquaculture and there are also pilot programs beginning in other countries.
Poseidon’s technology development covered two major areas:
• Culture techniques for post-larval and juvenile lobsters under artificial conditions.
• Development of artificial feeds to grow the lobsters to commercial size.
Artificial Feed Technology
Currently, small farming operations for spiny lobsters rely heavily on natural feed, such as trash fish, mussels and clams. While it is possible to create a profitable operation on a small scale, increasing the production is not possible because of the rising cost of natural feeds and the unreliable supply from season to season. For this reason, the development of the optimum feed technology using artificial diets is a prerequisite for the industry to be viable all year round. Poseidon’s research has successfully identified the type of feed and feed complements that can match the nutritive value of natural feeds. Formulation research is now ongoing to improve the feed technology to reduce the pollution that may arise from uneaten feeds and optimize the utilization of the feeds by the lobsters. Through a combination of natural and artificial feeds, Poseidon expects to enter the market for spiny lobsters of the right color, meat texture and taste to meet worldwide expectations.
Poseidon’s Lobster Culture Project
Poseidon’s current lobster culture project comprises numerous lobster pueruli housed in holding tanks connected to a recirculating filtration system.
Current methods of capturing pueruli from the wild have been based on systems such as Witham collectors, designed for research purposes. Commercial harvesting techniques are currently in development to optimize harvest, while minimizing by-catch.
The presence of a large conch fishery and conch processing plants in the Caribbean represent a partial solution to the problem of finding an affordable, reliable supply of balanced feed. Over 70% of the harvested conch meat is discarded as wastes by the processing facilities each day during the conch harvest season. Conch is a natural food item for spiny lobsters and this waste represents a valuable commodity to the spiny lobster culturist. The wastes are generally simply discarded to the bays and estuaries creating pollution problems. By utilizing conch wastes as additional resource solves this major pollution issue and provide a steady source of natural food for lobsters during the conch season. During off seasons, the availability of artificial feed provides a safety net for the commercial venture.
The selection of the country to site this operation will depend on several factors:
• Suitable economic and political support from the local government
• Availability of conch meat byproducts
• Availability of pueruli supply from the surrounding islands
• Suitable port and airfreight facilities
• Availability of ideal land and offshore facilities to support the operation
Capture of seed stock (pueruli), raising them past part of a critical stage, and then returning a significant number of females to a protected area ensures not only that the pueruli collections are replenished but that there are natural stocks for local fishermen and their future generations to harvest. Poseidon is committed to working in harmony with the economic activities of the local population, and with the environment, with no net loss of mangroves, seagrasses, or other habitats upon which wild fish and invertebrates depend.