Spiny lobster is one of The Bahamas' largest exports
The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) is embarking on first-of-its-kind research of Caribbean spiny lobster that could revolutionize the breeding, raising, and harvesting of the species, and lead to the sustainable replenishment and consumption of the seafood staple in Bahamian waters and abroad, CEI Director of Research and Innovation Dr. Nick Higgs told Guardian Business yesterday.
The CEI project will not only work to incorporate fishing communities across The Bahamas in the harvesting and growing of spiny lobster – also known locally as crawfish – but it will bring together other industries that will be needed to facilitate catching juvenile spiny lobster, said Higgs.
The research includes understanding the behavior of the crustacean as it goes through its growth cycle, and then understanding when to release it back into the wild, so that it has the best chance of survival.
The team also wants to understand how best the lobsters can be grown to maturity in captivity, in order to supplement the commercial trade of lobsters caught in the wild.
Spiny lobster is one of The Bahamas’ largest exports and one of the country’s marine resources most exploited by poachers.
Michael Bowleg, a PhD student from the University of Exeter, who is one of the leads on the project, explained that only about one to two percent of juvenile spiny lobster survive until their adult stage.
“That benthic stage is when they go on the bottom of the sea floor, essentially. And once they reach that stage, they’ll basically settle in areas like mangroves, seagrass beds, and that’s when their chance of survival is really, really low,” said Bowleg.
“They get preyed on by other organisms, and they could also starve if they can’t find a food source really, really quickly. So, yeah, the survival rate is sometimes as low as one or two percent.
“So us kind of circumventing and collecting them from the wild, growing them up in his land-based system until they get past that really vulnerable life stage, and ultimately releasing them back into the wild just increases their chance of survival massively.”
Higgs explained that if lobster grown in an aquaponic environment are to be sold during the country’s closed lobster season, the country will have to amend its fisheries laws and put certain regulations in place. However, the research team is confident that the studies being done on spiny lobster will move the country towards more robust numbers given the pressures from fishing, natural predators and poaching.
“There are all kinds of opportunities to develop this, particularly for the live lobster market,” said Higgs.
“Lobster prices change because of open and closed seasons. The whole beauty of this system is that you are growing these things without impacting wild populations. So, you could potentially be selling them at whatever size a buyer wants, not necessarily the size that makes sense for harvesting a wild animal. You could be harvesting them whenever you want, not necessarily within a season.
“But that’s going to take some working with the government and regulators because obviously, that leads to a lot of potential for people catching wild crawfish out of season or selling undersized crawfish.
“It definitely is going to take some work to figure out how we differentiate there. But then there are also models for looking at commercially restocking populations. There are organizations that do ecosystem restoration as a service. I think there are a lot of different opportunities, way further down the line. What we’re doing is all about trying to establish that sustainable supply chain.”
While some of the research is being done at the CEI, other studies are being done by partners at the University of Exeter in England.
This project is one of nine projects funded by the United Nations Development Program’s Ocean Innovation Challenge, said Higgs. He added that it has also received financial support from the Builders Initiative and the Disney Conservation Fund.
The CEI and the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday to bring the science of spiny lobster aquaculture to BAMSI’s campuses.
Article by Chester Robards, Originally published at The Nassau Guardian.