Fattening lobsters for foreign plates

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By G.S. MUDUR in Delhi
  • Published 19.12.05

New Delhi, Dec. 19: A fisherman drops mussels, clams, and unused fish into a fibreglass cage floating in the sea just off the shore of a coastal village near Tuticorin. Inside, dozens of juvenile lobsters are being fattened for foreign dinner tables.

Trapped in the cage, the lobsters gobble up the food and grow. When the time is right, the fisherman will scoop them up and engage in some quick haggling with a middleman who might pay Rs 1,000 for a kilogram of fresh lobster.

Each deal he gets to hear about brings on a surge of satisfaction to Ramaswamy Venkatesan, a scientist at the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in Chennai, who leads a project to deploy cages to fatten lobsters.

“The goal is to exploit lobsters for export in a sustainable manner,” said Venkatesan, the head of the division of ocean science and technology for islands at the NIOT.

NIOT scientists say the trial phase of the deployment of fibreglass cages at selected sites along the coast of Tamil Nadu has worked well and the technology is ready for expansion in coastal Gujarat, Kerala and Orissa where lobsters are found.

The National Biodiversity Authority today organised a workshop in Ramnathpuram in Tamil Nadu to expose the technology to more fisherfolk.

The NIOT, with support from the state government, has deployed 17 lobster-fattening cages off three coastal villages near Tuticorin and three at Ramnathpuram. The cages are intended for wild juvenile lobsters inadvertently caught by fishermen in their nets.

These wild juvenile lobsters are typically less than 50 to 100 grams in weight ? too small to be exported for the Indian government has banned the export of juvenile lobsters.

“In the domestic market, the juvenile lobsters are sold as chickenfeed for Rs 10 a kilogram,” said Venkatesan. When fattened with regular feeds of mussels and trash fish, the lobsters grow to 200 grams within four to six months.

“Grown lobsters can fetch fisherfolk a thousand rupees a kilogram,” he said.

Since the first cages were deployed nearly two years ago, NIOT scientists estimate that about 40 to 60 fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu maintain cages for lobsters in the open sea.