A European lobster

European lobster. Credit Alex Hyde

A new project will monitor hatchery-reared lobsters to ensure wild populations in UK waters remain genetically diverse.

Lobsters are routinely bred and released to boost populations and allow sustainable fishing.

However, genetic management of hatchery-reared species is often overlooked – so the young animals released may be genetically unrepresentative of wild stocks.

The new project, called Genetic Management of Lobster Releases (GEMALOR), aims to ensure that hatchery-reared juvenile lobsters remain fully representative of local stocks.

GEMALOR is a collaboration between the University of Exeter and the National Lobster Hatchery (NLH), Cornwall, UK.

It is supported by a £298,000 award from the UK government’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) under the Fishing Industry Science Partnership (FISP) scheme.

“When genetic management is overlooked, population enhancement has had the unwanted side effects of eroding genetic diversity, fitness and adaptability,” said Professor Jamie Stevens, from the University of Exeter.

“Through GEMALOR, we will assess genetic diversity in hatchery-reared lobsters in both captive and wild environments.”

Dr Charlie Ellis, also from the University of Exeter, added: “This will allow better management of broodstock and releases to ensure that hatchery breeding safeguards the diversity of targeted wild stocks.”

Via the NLH production and research facility in Newlyn, Cornwall, and new genomic methods developed at Exeter, researchers will monitor populations in areas where hatchery-reared lobsters are released.

“As leaders in Lobster stock enhancement in the UK, we constantly strive to improve the efficiency of our work in supporting the sustainability of vulnerable lobster stocks,” said Dr Carly Daniels, from NLH.

“Though our collaborative research, we have learnt astounding amounts about lobsters and how we can use this knowledge to improve our stock enhancement work.

“However, some questions still remain unanswered and could be key to ensuring the success of stock enhancement initiatives across the country and even worldwide.

“By teaming up with the University of Exeter we hope to answer some of the unknowns which, up until now, could not be studied until advances in genetic techniques were made.

“By understanding more about how heredity can affect lobsters during the process of stock enhancement, we will make critical steps forward in optimising genetic diversity in the lobsters we release and ensure the most positive benefits are achieved in supporting sustainability in our lobster stocks.”