Friday 11 September 2015

Team lobster! A meeting at the National Lobster Hatchery

The National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow
Last Friday, I was asked to attend a meeting at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, Cornwall. I know I've blogged about it in the past, but collaboration with other research groups is, to me, one of the most important factors when conducting a project. As well as a hub for lobster science in the UK, the national lobster hatchery has great ties with the local fishermen, the Padstow community and restaurants in the area, with their very successful 'buy one set one free' campaign.

I've liaised with Padstow in the past - when I had visiting researchers in my laboratory from the New England Aquarium, Boston, this was on our list of places to visit; and when I needed juvenile lobsters for exposure studies, I would contact the hatchery. It was only at the 10th International Conferenceon Lobster Biology and Management, that I really got to know the 'hatchery lot' and we became great friends, and colleagues. We vowed that we would stay in touch and try to meet as often as possible in order to discuss the future of European lobster research in the UK.

In attendance at the meeting on Friday were hatchery staff Dom Boothroyd, the general manager; Research & Development Officer Dr Carly Daniels; Business Development Officer, Clare Stanley and PhD student Charlie Ellis, who is part of the University of Exeter's Falmouth Campus, but works closely with the hatchery on his research project. 

A lobster with one of Dans tags on it's 'arm' 
First up to talk was Dr. Daniel Skerritt, who completed his PhD at Newcastle University last year, investigating lobster abundance and movements in Northumberland. Dan now works as a consultant for MRAG in London and gave us a talk about his research findings both during and post- PhD. For his project, Dan monitored lobster behaviour in and around baited pots (used to catch lobsters), and their interactions with habitat using acoustic telemetry. Perhaps his most significant findings which may have the greatest implication to management, concern differences between the sexes. From mark-recapture studies (where a lobster is tagged, released, and caught again) he found that males have a much higher catchability than females. This means that a lot more male lobsters were recaptured – but why? The acoustic telemetry work revealed further differences between the sexes; males use a much larger area of seafloor than females, which could account for this increased catchability due to greater probability of pot-interaction. However, overall this work focused on the utilisation and behavioural changes over substrate. Dan has a publication in press for Marine Ecology Progress Series; “Fine-scale movement, activity patterns and home-ranges of European lobster Homarus gammarus the prepress abstract can be viewed here.

Aside from his science, Dan has also been involved in some outreach work. He struck up an interesting collaboration with a graphic designer and the Great North Museum. They put on an exhibition with input from Natural History Museum called ‘Spineless’, with Dan’s work being the subject of one of the exhibits. The aim of the collaboration was to make the kids of the northeast aware of the importance of the lobster fishery; you can see more about the exhibit here.

Check out this great little video of Dan, talking about his research.

A snippet from my lecture 
Up next, I gave a talk about the main findings from my PhD; I have talked mainly at conferences about my shell disease susceptibility work but my lesser known research concerning parasites (see last weeks blog post... and more in next weeks!) and MPAs, were very interesting to share. It's great to talk informally about this, and to get some ideas together for future work. 

Charlie is currently writing up his PhD and gave us a short overview of his findings so far. The National Lobster Hatchery's main mission is to create a sustainable lobster fishery in Cornwall and in order to do this, the number one research priority is to monitor the success of it's primary charitable objective (i.e. the stock enhancement program). In order to do this, they must be able to estimate survival rates for hatchery reared lobsters in the wild, as well as their contribution to catches of landing-sized European lobster. To do this, genetic analysis of Cornish lobster stocks is essential, and something that Charlie has been working on. He has also been examining tagging systems that will enable stakeholders to easily identify hatchery reared animals. So far, Charlie has found that the lobsters around the Cornish coast all seem to come from one gene pool, which is good for the release programme which relies on volunteers to bring in berried hens (expectant lobster mums) from various locations. 

Spot the baby lobsters!
I think we are a very talkative lot so we didn't have much time for poor Carly to talk to us about her new and exciting project which focuses on developing sea based culture of lobsters in containers, a rearing technique that exhibits the potential for a low carbon form of rearing with no feed costs. This is a consortium project, led by the National Lobster Hatchery, which follows on from an earlier project also funnded by Innovate UK/BBSRC. Carly completed both her BSc and PhD projects at the hatchery, concentrating on the optimisation of the rearing diets for early life stages of the European lobster, in order to enhance growth, survival and health using biotic dietary supplements.

The hatchery also hosts students who work on small but important projects and so we also heard interesting presentations from Dan Sankey, who is working on lobster behaviour and is soon to begin an MRes at Swansea University; and Grace Dugdale, a BSc student at Cardiff University who is working on a placement year alongside Carly at the hatchery. Grace is looking into the effects of probiotics on lobster juveniles. Also in attendance were Adam Bates, who is working towards an MPhil in European lobster genomics and Joe Augier who previously completed his undergraduate project at the hatchery and is going on to do an MRes.

In all, it was a great way to reconnect with the lobster team, over a year after meeting at the ICWL in Mexico. I would like to acknowledge all in #Teamlobster for helping me to write this blog post… lobster scientists, unite!