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UNDP Spiny Lobster Project

what we learnt…

The end of June signified the end of one of our more exotic research projects. This The UNDP-funded project, led by the University of Exeter, focused on the conservation and sustainable fishing of the spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) of the Bahamas and wider Caribbean area. The National Lobster Hatchery were invited to be a project partner to provide our knowledge and experience of conserving European lobster stocks and transfer this to the conservation of their spiny tropical cousins.

The spiny lobster fishery of the Bahamas, much like the lobster fishery in Cornwall, is extremely important in supporting much of the population of the island ensuring local fishing communities continue to thrive. However, unlike the UK, much of the fishery, an estimated 36%, is unregulated. Part of this project was to get a better understanding of the fishery. This included the study of the genetic population dynamics of the lobsters, in order to advise policymakers on ways to mitigate fishing pressures and improve sustainability of this species.

During the project, the team at the University of Exeter were able to investigate the population genetics of spiny lobsters in the Caribbean in order to see how the population was related. Their research showed that, in terms of fishery management, P. argus in the Caribbean, can be managed as 1 big stock, as there was little genetic diversity within the samples collected. This is a very important conclusion of the project because it will have direct influence on management practices.

Another area of the project which directly involved our research team at the NLH was the trialling of our bespoke sea-based container culture (SBCC) system (developed during our Lobster Grower projects) on a brand new species and environment. A small number of containers were shipped over to the Bahamas and deployed in the inshore environment around the Bahamas by our project partners, the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Over the course of a few months, the lobsters within the containers were monitored for growth and survival in order to see whether this technology is transferrable from a cold to a warm water environment.

From our small deployment it became evident that there were major differences in the use of our SBCC systems in the tropical environment. One interesting observation at some deployment locations, was the time it took for marine organisms to foul the inside and outside of the containers. This is a very important factor, as these colonising organisms are a food source for the lobsters growing within. It was clear that more in-depth research would be needed in order to successfully use this technology to grow out this species.

All of the findings from this research project fed into the formation of a policy document for achieving enhanced sustainable exploitation of the Caribbean spiny lobster through the adoption of small-scale aquaculture practices. This roadmap has set out a series of priority actions outlined below: