A CLARE man in Australia and has spent the last three years working on a project that could potentially be worth millions of dollars to the country’s fishing economy.
In conjunction with scientists from Tasmania and Victoria, Adrian Linnane from Fanore has discovered a way to turn white speckled lobsters red, which makes them much more valuable for export to the Chinese, as red is a sign of prosperity and good luck in Chinese culture.
Adrian undertook a Diploma in Applied Aquatic Sciences at GMIT in 1987 before heading to Aberdeen to complete a Bachelor of Science in Marine Zoology in 1992. Two years later, he returned to Ireland to undertake a PhD at NUI, Galway at the Shellfish Research Laboratory in Carna, working on lobster stock enhancement.
He graduated in 1997 and remained at NUI Galway for the next four years, working on various lobster-related EU postdoctoral research projects.
In 2001, he was awarded an Enterprise Ireland International Research Fellowship and travelled to Melbourne to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He spent a year there working on small crustacean known locally as a “yabby”.
After returning to Ireland in 2002, the position of senior rock lobster scientist for the State of South Australia became available and Adrian had enjoyed his time Down Under so much that he decided to put himself forward for the job and was successful, starting work at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) in 2003.
His latest project addresses management issues of rock lobster resources across south-eastern Australia. The majority of the lobsters caught in South Australia come from inshore waters of less than 60 metres in depth. This is despite that fact that there is a much larger stock of lobsters in offshore waters of more than 60 metres.
Inshore lobsters are red in colour and almost 90% are exported live to China, where a cultural preference for red lobsters exists. Offshore lobsters are paler in colour and tend to be speckled with white. As a result, red inshore lobsters have a higher unit value than paler offshore individuals. Therefore, fishermen tend to concentrate on catching the red lobsters nearer the shore. “They are obviously going to concentrate their efforts on the more valuable animals,” says Adrian. However, there is evidence to suggest that in some areas of South Australia, stocks of inshore lobsters are declining due to the demand from the Chinese market.
Adrian’s project aimed to investigate the feasibility of moving the low-value pale offshore lobsters inshore to change their colour and improve their market value, as the Chinese are prepared to pay between AU$5 and 10 per kilogramme of red lobster.
In 2007 and 2008, Adrian and his team caught 5,000 white speckled lobsters in the deeper waters. They were tagged, photographed and moved to shallower waters. The project found that the lobsters were able to colour within one year of being moved. Five hundred of the tagged lobsters were caught 12 months later and every one of them had turned red. It was believed that the change in diet of the lobsters inshore contributed to their colour change. It appears they were eating red algae found in shallower waters which would not be consumed by off-shore lobsters. However, it is impossible to tell for sure as lobsters do not produce faeces. Most of the recaptured lobsters were returned to the water for research purposes but all the evidence suggests that they are capable of being sold as “red” individuals.
The Clare scientist is understandably proud of his achievements. “As the lobster fishermen help to catch and re-locate the lobsters, as well provide information through tag returns, it’s a great example of industry and science working collaboratively. It has also captured local people’s imagination and got them interested in lobster science,” he maintains.
There is now a possibility that the project will be carried out on a larger scale in the near future and it could potentially be very lucrative for the Australian fishing industry.
Large-scale relocation of lobsters is already taking place in Tasmania where similar problems with in-shore, offshore stocks of red lobster exists. Adrian is now planning further research to discover if it will be commercially viable to double fish the lobsters on a large scale. The costs associated with bait and fuel make fishing twice for the lobsters expensive but it’s thought the price the Chinese are prepared to pay for the red animals may outweigh this.
Adrian says he now plans to do some bio-economic modelling to assess the economic feasibility of re-location.
He says his love affair with the marine environment on the west coast continues to this day.
“Whenever I get home to Ireland, I try to spend as much time as possible fishing on the shores of Galway Bay for those delicious mackerel,” he adds.
However, he says he has no immediate plans to move back permanently in the near future. “I have been here six years now and I might stay a while longer to saviour the climate and fantastic wines!”