Why don't they grow Atlantic lobster in the Pacific?

Matthew Alice:

Considering the popularity and premium prices paid for Atlantic (Maine) lobster, one wonders why they can't be grown commercially on the Pacific Coast. I would guess that about every two years someone must think of trying it. So why won't this species grow well here? Is it the water temperature, the salinity, the profile of the ocean bottom, lack of sufficient food, tidal action, or predators? Or what?

-- Vincent Bashore, Playas de Tijuana, BCN, Mexico

Every time somebody thinks up this idea, I hope they promptly roll over and go back to sleep. There's a reason Bill Gates picked software, not crustaceans. The need for a local lobster farm assumes that wild lobsters are disappearing and prices are out of control. Not true, for the moment at least. Wrangling lobsters takes a lot of cowboys and a lot of land for the tanks. You can't just throw Atlantic lobsters into the Pacific and hope for the best. Lobsters are very tricky to domesticate. From the time they're hatched, each one has to be housed in its own little cubicle. Unfortunately, one of a lobster's favorite meals is lobster. And they fight like cats and, um, cats.

UC-Davis's marine research facility at Bodega Bay spent more than a decade working on the idea of lobster farming. They fiddled with water temperature, salinity, light, and other parameters. They eventually developed a nutritious lobster chow and figured out how to get an animal that matures in seven years to reach market weight in only three years. They turned the females into brood hens, releasing eggs all year long instead of just in the spring. So the technology is there, but it's very expensive. Many have experimented with it, none have succeeded. It's cost effective to farm shrimp, abalone, catfish, crayfish, mussels -- less finicky aquatic life. But for the moment, you're better off dumping your extra millions into the stock market than into an Atlantic-lobster ranch. By the way, the Pacific lobsters served in Puerto Nuevo come from farms scattered along the Baja coast.

To: Matmail:

I want to add one bit of information to your discussion of the lobster question. About 15 years ago the Scripps Institution of Oceanography had several large tanks in which they were growing and studying Atlantic lobsters. They were actually quite successful but never went out into the open ocean with their experiments. The reason was that whenever they put Atlantic and Pacific lobsters together, the latter would always get wiped out. Yes, they have no claws.... So, the decision was made to not work further at transplanting the Eastern species to our coast for fear of wiping out the local population. Those of us partial to the Maine strain would not have minded seeing that happen, but it wasn't to be.

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