Having observed the way lobsters are fished, handled, transported and packed over the years, it is little wonder why lobster mortality rates in the small-scale and interim relief sectors are so high. High mortalities not only affect the incomes generated by these fishers, but also - I would argue - support the rampant growth in the illegal fishing of lobsters so as to make up for income losses.
Why has the conversation in the lobster fishery not shifted from arguments about more and more quotas to how do we maximise incomes and profits from the sale of lobsters based on current quota sizes? Why have fishers organisations, including the West Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association, Coastal Links and SAUFF, not invested in training small scale lobster fishers in techniques to ensure lower (if not near zero) mortality rates and higher market prices?
For example, how many lobster fishers appreciate that proper and delicate handling techniques immediately after harvesting are crucial to ensuring lobster survival and health? Lobsters are delicate animals as a result of their strange anatomy. Lobster's also suffer stress quite easily which results in mortality. So treat them gently and with care and reap the financial rewards.
Here are some handling tips:
- Whether using traps or hoop nets, ensure that lobsters are lifted slowly and carefully from the water to avoid inducing unnecessary stress and damage.
- Dont dump your harvest on the deck or in the bins. Remove lobsters from the traps / net gently.
- Keep lobsters moist with sea water - fresh water over their gills (from ice) can increase mortality.
- When packing them, don't overpack bins. Use moist and soft packaging to cushion them and make sure they all face the same direction.
- Do everything to avoid stressing lobsters. Avoid unnecessary and substantial temperature shifts, low oxygen levels, exposure to high ammonia levels or other dissolved toxins, changes in salinity, crowding and aggression.
- Once placed in purging tanks (especially after they have been out of sea water for some time), ensure that lobsters are moved from the initial purging tank to another as they release built-up ammonia shortly after being placed back into sea water. You don't want your freshly purged lobsters to remain in ammonia saturated waters as this will increase mortality rates substantially.