Oscar’s Release

OscarHead

Although I am a trout fisherman and this blog is mostly about trout fishing, a little story of something, as Monty Python would say “Completely Different”. A story about little Oscar and his imminent release from captivity..

Down along the Cornish coast, on the banks of the Camel Estuary is the town of Padstow, renowned for its picturesque fishing village views, safe harbor and more pasty shops than you could wave a stick at. Although some of the fishing industry remains, the place has been transformed (as a Cornishman and fisherman I have to think sadly so), into a tourist centre, with those pasty shops, boat rides and yachting now taking precedence over the traditional pursuits of lobstermen, mackerel fishermen and such.

OscarPadstow

Still it isn’t a location without charm or for that matter a long list of historic tales to tell. The harbour was at one time a thriving hub of fishing and import, catering for both local fisher folk and vessels from further afield. In particular ships bringing timber from Canada and offering passage to emigrants on the return trip. One interesting tale or perhaps it would be better said to be legend, revolves around a particularly nasty sandbar which “guards” the harbour and which accounted for many shipwrecks, particularly in the age of sail.

Known as the “Doom Bar”, local legend has it that this particular nautical inconvenience was the work of a rather disenchanted mermaid who with her dying breath cursed the bank into existence having been shot by a local man. The reason for the shooting apparently unrecorded. The sand bar also gives its name to Sharp’s Doom Bar Ale, the flagship ale of the Cornish micro-brewery based in Rock, a village on the opposite banks of the estuary to Padstow. (As an aside I grew rather fond of Doom Bar whilst exploring the various hostelries in the West Country)

OscarDoomBar

So then you may well imagine that with prospects of fishing, pasties and local beer it didn’t take too much arm twisting to have me heading towards Padstow on a recent visit to my erstwhile homelands. Although in reality it wasn’t the mackerel, alcohol or foodstuffs that drew me as much as a desire to visit the “Padstow National Lobster Hatchery”, which is situated on the estuary banks and which serves to redress the imbalances of overfishing of lobster, habitat degradation and such, by hatching out and releasing baby lobsters back into the environment.

OscarLogo

Like many marine animals, the lobsters are in a a spot of bother, for example according to the NLH Mediterranean and Scandinavian stocks of lobster have completely collapsed and are showing little sign of recovery, in Corwall they are doing something constructive about it. (The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations state that over 75% of the world’s major fisheries are either: fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering)

Now I am at heart something of a conservationist and such enterprises hold a particular fascination for me it must be said. The National Lobster Hatchery, is housed in a rather unimposing building and to start with the place looks far too small to be producing any significant numbers of lobster, so it was enlightening to visit and understand a bit more about how they achieve their goals.

The first surprise is that you don’t need many female lobster to produce a lot of young, a female lobster can produce some 20,000 eggs of which in the wild one would be fortunate enough to reach maturity. In the wild the baby lobsters, larvae really, are so vulnerable that they would have less than a one in a hundred chance of getting past the first few weeks or so of life. In the hatchery, with constant monitoring and careful husbandry including their very own space after a week or two (to avoid the aggressive babies doing each other harm) the success rate leaps up to over 40%.

OscarOnFinger

In fact they only need to be held in captivity for around three months before they are ready to settle down, those first few months of being pampered have a huge impact on the baby’s chance of survival to adulthood.

The role of the hatchery however isn’t simply about producing pampered baby crustaceans, it is also about changing public perceptions and education, particularly of the youth in terms of sustainable practices, particularly related to fishing. There are some most interesting video’s on how lobster and crab traps work, how they can be improved to avoid unwanted by-catch or damage to the animals caught. They also are leaders in lobster breeding research and the NLH is now a recognized international authority on lobster and lobster breeding programs. The NLH is also involved with various studies on survival rates, tagging and even the creation of artificial habitats. It was all interesting stuff.

 OscarInBottleActually baby lobsters are remarkably cute.

Anyway, that is where “Oscar” comes into the picture. As one of some 40,000 visitors to the NLH every year I had the opportunity to “adopt” a baby lobster, and so Marianne and I became the proud surrogate parents. When I got the papers Oscar wasn’t much more than a flea sized squiggle in a bottle but shortly he is due to be released to fend for himself off the Cornish Coast. When you adopt a lobster you can check out when and where they are released. Currently Oscar is still languishing in the marine equivalent of the Ritz Hotel (the penthouse not the kitchen) but sometime soon he is due to be swimming free and if he’s fortunate he might just be in line for a telegram from royalty congratulating him on reaching his centenary. 🙂

It is something of an anathema that on leaving the National Lobster Hatchery one can wander a few yards across the carpark and get to eat one of Oscar’s larger cousins at Rick Stein’s restaurant, but at least I know that before he potentially ends up on a plate, Oscar might just sire another generation of babies and if they are lucky, they too will get hatched out in the relative comfort of the NLH and have a better than average chance of survival, just like their dad.

OscarWhopperYou never know, Oscar might just outlive me and become a real “Whopper”

One of the really great initiatives from the NLH is their “Buy One, Set one Free” program which actually works with restaurants and gives patrons the chance to donate towards the nurturing and release of a lobster when they eat one. That might sound a bit grim but it provides restaurateurs with a way of demonstrating their commitment to sustainable use of seafood whilst at the same time helping the NHL to do their work. Plus it offers at least a nominal “feel good” factor for those enjoying chomping down on Oscar’s relatives..

 

Links:

The National Lobster Hatchery Website:

You too can adopt a lobster, click on the image below.

 

OscarAdopt

Watch a video clip about the NLH.

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Oscar’s Release”

  1. Robin Fick Says:

    Hi Tim

    Interesting article. My grandparents on my late mother’s side came from St Ives and emigrated to Australia and on the way, the boat stopped over in Cape Town. This was in the late 1800’s. Anyway, they continued onto Australia and after a very period of time, decided Cape Town was better and boarded the next ship back England bound to Cape Town. Regards

    Robin Fick

    • paracaddis Says:

      Thanks for dropping by Robin, glad that you enjoyed reading the piece. It is interesting to know how we all got scattered about the planet isn’t it?

  2. bibio55 Says:

    Again a wonderfully written piece a great story. Here I am sunning it up in the South of France on holiday, thinking that the lobster I had last night probably came from my own village in Scotland, Burnmouth, near Berwick upon Tweed. Our six boats fish for crab (aka Poo, Partan) and lobsters. As soon as they hit the harbour they are put into a refrigerated lorry and off they go to the south of France and Spain. Not many left to feed the local population.

    I have never heard of the NLH, but I tell you what though, when I get back home I am going to adopt a lobster, if only to keep the ever dwindling number of fisherman in Burnmouth in jobs. Thanks again John bibio55

    • paracaddis Says:

      Thanks again for taking the trouble to drop in a comment, particularly whilst languishing on the beach enjoying the sunshine. Just don’t go and eat too many of Oscar’s cousins, they are slow growing little blighters.. 🙂

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