Tales From The National Lobster Hatchery

Lobster illustration by Jodie, one of our Seasalt Artists

Not far from our Padstow shop is a charity doing big things for the lobster population. The National Lobster Hatchery focuses on the education and research of marine conservation and how this effects the nation’s favourite crustacean.

We caught up with Dom Boothroyd, manager of the hatchery, to find out all about the charity…


 Let’s start with you, Dom. How long have you been working at National Lobster Hatchery and what drew you to work here?

I’ve been working here for 11 years now. I come from just up the coast (Crackington Haven) and have been obsessed with the sea since I was about 4.  I did a couple of fishy degrees and then went to work in fish farming and then Public aquaria, when the post came up here I jumped at the opportunity –  it combines all of my passions and gave me the chance to move back to Cornwall.

Dom Boothroyd at the National Lobster Hatchery


It’s great having the hatchery here in the Southwest, but why was Cornwall chosen to house the NLH? Do you think Cornwall’s rich maritime and fishing heritage had a part to play in it?
The concept originated in Cornwall as a result of the work of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee (CSFC) (now the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, or CIFCA).  The concept was to create a project that could add stock into the fishery, complement existing fisheries management tools and act as a focal point for engagement with the fishing industry, the general public and scientists.

How long has the NLH been going? What prompted the creation of the charity?
The organisation has now been running for 16 years, the concept originates from some work undertaken by the UK government in the 1990s when they were trying to understand how you could make fisheries more productive using aquaculture (hatchery) techniques.  There had been a rapid decline in the lobster populations in Scandinavia and some other European Countries. When it looked as if the Cornish fishery might be declining in the 1980s the CSFC brought in a suite of conservation measures.  The most novel of these approaches was the use of hatchery techniques – that’s us!  Stocks in Cornwall are now relatively buoyant, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a hell of a lot for the charity to continue working on and we see ourselves focusing increasingly on research into developing hatchery techniques and understanding the impact of releasing hatchery reared lobsters into the wild.

How did the lobster population get so low, and how does the NLH work to preserve them?
Populations in the British Isles are relatively buoyant at the moment.  The species however, is heavily targeted and because they taste good and have enormous appeal there is considerable and sustained demand.  With the world human population growing and middle classes swelling, seafood demand is set to massively increase.  The work of the charity is about learning how to make capture fisheries more productive and at the same time learning how to re-stock them should populations collapse.

Inside the National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow

What can we expect to see at the hatchery?
The visitor centre focuses in on the lobster, the fishery, how it is managed, what its problems are and how you, as a seafood consumer can have an impact. We try to be a bit quirky and get some great feedback from customers.  Although it is only a small centre the charity does loads and the visitor centre shows it all off.  At the same time the visitor centre generates the funds for that work to happen so the admission charge and anything you spend whilst you are visiting us goes directly towards our marine conservation, research and education work.

On average, how many visitors does the hatchery have each year and when would you say is the best time to visit?
We are open from 10.00 am every day of the year (except Christmas day). So please come and see us whenever you can – like everywhere in Cornwall we are busiest in school holidays but even then, if you come early or late (we are open until 7.00pm during summer holidays) we should have plenty of time to tell you about the charity’s work.

FUN FACT: Well over 150,000
baby lobsters
have been hatched at the NLH.

That’s over £2 million pounds worth of lobsters
added to the population.

What is it like being based in Padstow, arguably one of the most fish restaurant famous places in the county? Do you think this encourages visitors to the centre so they can find out more about how they can eat sustainably?
Undoubtedly it helps to be in a seaside town that attracts so many people and hopefully our visitors leave us better informed about what they should or shouldn’t buy, (in terms of seafood) based on the most up to date sustainability information.

Do you have any tips on how can we ensure the seafood we’re eating has come from a sustainable source?
Come to the centre and take a look at our exhibits!

Once the lobsters are ready to be released into the wild, do you have selection of preferred release sites? If so, what makes these desirable locations for the lobsters?
We try and release all of our juveniles into the best habitat available and our release strategy is based on habitat type as well as a few other criteria.

Anna the lobster at the National Lobster Hatchery

Do all lobsters get released, or is there often cause to keep them at the hatchery?
Virtually everything gets released, at the moment we are deploying large numbers of juveniles into special systems at sea as part of a big research programme.  These are being grown to a bigger size under environmentally enriched conditions, so that we can work out what the best size for release is and understand the economics of operating a site at sea, this project is also looking at a whole load of other things over the next three years.

Are you able to check the lobsters once they’ve been released? Do you know whether they stay in Cornish waters or if they travel further afield?
Our work builds on the findings of previous researchers and we know that most of our lobsters won’t go very far from where they have been released. However, over the past few years we have been looking at the genetics of the local populations (with the University of Exeter) and have worked out a way of tracking our lobsters using a system similar to genetic fingerprinting.

I really love the ‘Adopt a lobster’ scheme. Can you tell us more about it? Who came up with the idea? What can people expect from the adoption?
We have been running Adopt a Lobster for a few years now. It‘s a great way for people to support the work of the charity and cover the costs of growing and releasing a lobster into the sea. Each adoption comes with a certificate and information pack and most importantly you get to name your lobster! People come up with the most bizarre names. When your lobster has been released you can look at our website and find out where and when your baby was set free.

Find out all about adopting a lobster on the National Lobster Hatchery website, or pop in when your next in Padstow.

Padstow, Cornwall