Next time you eat lobster, there’s a decent chance it spent its formative years at the National Lobster Hatchery in the Cornish seaside town, Padstow. Housed in an old mackerel smokehouse on the harbour wall, this creche for lobsters is a great place to spend an hour-or-so when you’ve eaten at Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips, opposite the entrance.
The centre’s tagline is “giving mother nature a helping hand”, and that is exactly what they do here. Local fishermen drop-off pregnant lobsters they’ve caught, knowing staff will care for the lobsters in captivity, nurture their baby lobsters when born and release them into the wild when they’re past their vulnerable early stages and ready for the big wide world.
This improves the sustainability of lobster fishing. Everyone’s a winner – the lobsters themselves, fishermen, restaurant owners and us lobster eaters.
If you didn’t know much about lobsters before your visit, you will in your first five minutes here as the walls are plastered with facts and figures. For instance, female lobsters have up to 20,000 eggs although in the wild only one of these might survive. In the captivity of the National Lobster Hatchery, the staff can keep 1,000 eggs alive.
You can adopt a lobster, and for £2.50 you get the privilege of naming your “pet”, a certificate of adoption and a notification of when and where it is released. Being the romantic sort, I adopted a pair of lobsters back in 2011 called Fez and Kat for Valentine’s Day, and the wife and I were given a luxury lobster-shaped chocolate each in return.
The website lists release dates and locations – they use several places on both the north and south coasts of Cornwall as well as near the Isles of Scilly, and infant lobsters can be released by boat, by diver, on to the shore or through a pipe on to the seabed.
Fez and Kat were released together by boat just outside Padstow at ‘The Mouls’ later that year. I’d like to think they’re still swimming around, eating mussels and doing whatever it is that lobsters-in-love do these days. But I won’t kid myself – they were highly likely caught, killed, cooked and eaten at Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant!
As a registered charity, the centre relies on donations and adoptions to finance its research and operations. They’re currently promoting the adoption of lobsters as quirky wedding favours – you can adopt yours here.
Entrance is £3.75 for adults (£1.50 for children), and once you’ve paid you can use your date-stamped ticket to come back as often as you like for a year.