A visit to North Ber­wick sees Morag Boot­land dis­cover a very spe­cial hatch­ery which is help­ing to safe­guard the fu­ture of lob­ster fish­ing in East Loth­ian

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

This month we spot­light East Loth­ian: dis­cov­er­ing great walks, lovely lob­sters and a spooky le­gacy of goblins and wizards

creels. Jane McMinn on North Ber­wick Har­bour, sur­rounded by This lit­tle lob­ster is around one year old.

They have the power to re­gen­er­ate, they live for around 70 years and they are can­ni­bal­is­tic. Com­bine this with the fact that they reg­u­larly split their shells and scut­tle out back­wards to await their jelly-like bod­ies hard­en­ing to ac­com­mo­date their growth and you would be for­given for imag­in­ing a be­ing some­what akin to the alien in the sci-fi movie of the same name. But these crea­tures are from much closer to home, and on North Ber­wick har­bour, hid­den amongst the leisure boats and fish­ing creels, is a place that is help­ing to en­sure the fu­ture of these in­cred­i­ble an­i­mals. The Firth of Forth Lob­ster Hatch­ery was the brain­child of lo­cal fish­er­men David Grubb and Jack Dale and skip­per Jane McMinn, who set up in their hatch­ery in 2010. The idea for a lob­ster hatch­ery was born out of con­cern for Scot­land’s lob­ster pop­u­la­tion in the wake of the Nor­we­gian lob­ster fish­ery col­lapse of the 1980s. ‘Their pop­u­la­tion lit­er­ally went from thou­sands of tons to just ten and it still hasn’t re­cov­ered, de­spite the Nor­we­gians be­ing at the fore­front of hatch­eries,’ Jane tells me as she shows me round the fa­cil­ity. The many fish­er­man who catch lob­ster in the Firth of Forth along the beau­ti­ful East Loth­ian coast­line were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned not only about the slump in the num­bers of lob­sters that they were catch­ing, but also by their re­duced size. As the lob­sters be­come smaller and smaller, quickly ap­proach­ing the min­i­mum catch­able size, the area’s fish­er­men got a very clear in­di­ca­tion about drop­ping pop­u­la­tions. Lob­sters are blessed with thou­sands of tiny black eggs which the ‘berried’ hens carry around on their un­der­side. She will cast off the eggs as tiny lar­vae which are very vul­ner­a­ble to pre­da­tion by fish. From these thou­sands of eggs, Jane tells me, that sur­vival rates are ex­tremely low. ‘Per­haps only one will sur­vive to catch­able size, which is usu­ally reached at around five to seven-years-old.’ At the hatch­ery fish­er­man bring in berried hens so that the lar­vae can be taken care of un­til they are be­yond their most del­i­cate stage. ‘When we let them go they are past the re­ally vul­ner­a­ble float­ing stage and are start­ing to be­have like wee lob­sters,’ says Jane. ‘We re­lease them when they have reached a size that they can go and hide and we en­sure that they are let go into places where they can live as safely as pos­si­ble. The idea is that where one out of a fe­male’s batch might have sur­vived,

per­haps 250 will sur­vive in­stead. It’s a mas­sive in­crease.’ The hatch­ery in­cor­po­rates an ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre where tourists and groups can learn about the life cy­cle of a lob­ster and the work that the hatch­ery does, as well as a small gift shop. Small in­come streams from tourist do­na­tions and gift shop pur­chases are es­sen­tial to the con­tin­ued run­ning of the hatch­ery, which re­ceives no fund­ing. Jane is also very busy tour­ing lo­cal schools and groups to talk about the work that they do. ‘There’s no money in it,’ says Jane. ‘It’s not a good busi­ness case, but it is a good sus­tain­able fish­ing con­ser­va­tion project. If you have a healthy lob­ster then you know you have a healthy, good qual­ity sea around you. So our plan is just to keep go­ing year by year, be­cause no­body ever says that the hatch­ery is a ter­ri­ble idea. So we all work re­ally hard and con­tribute a wee bit ev­ery week to keep it go­ing.’ The hatch­ery has even played host to Julie Wal­ters as part of her coastal rail­ways tele­vi­sion se­ries. Jane was lucky enough to be able to take her out on her boat. The har­bour at North Ber­wick was built around 1150 and orig­i­nally served as a ferry port for pil­grims trav­el­ling to Fife. East Loth­ian has a long fish­ing her­itage and at one time North Ber­wick har­bour was a busy hub with a large fleet of boats and catches be­ing sent far and wide. To­day the ma­jor­ity of boats that work out of North Ber­wick and neigh­bour­ing har­bours in Dun­bar and Pre­ston­pans are fish­ing on a much smaller scale, some of them just part-time, but they are uphold­ing a valu­able tra­di­tion. North Ber­wick first be­gan to at­tract tourists in the late 19th cen­tury. Train ser­vices from Ed­in­burgh and Lon­don brought wealthy fam­i­lies to hol­i­day in the area where they en­joyed

the out­door swim­ming pool and the glo­ri­ous sandy beaches. To­day there are still plenty of rea­sons to visit the East Loth­ian coast­line and North Ber­wick in par­tic­u­lar. The out­door pool might be gone, but as well as the hatch­ery it is home to the Scot­tish Seabird Cen­tre, which runs boat trips in the Firth of Forth to Craigleith and the Bass Rock. De­pend­ing on the time of year you can watch gan­nets dive for fish or puffins nest­ing on the rocky cliffs. Web cams also pro­vide great views of the birds from the warmth of the dis­cov­ery cen­tre. The hatch­ery is un­doubt­edly a valu­able link in the cir­cle of life. The fish­er­men bring in berried hens and the hatch­ery re­turn the lar­vae to the water, al­low­ing the fish­er­men to catch more lob­ster, the ma­jor­ity of which go to fab­u­lous Lob­ster Shack and the Rock­e­teer restau­rant which are both sit­u­ated on the har­bour at North Ber­wick. The shack does a roar­ing trade, cook­ing up fresh, lo­cal seafood over the sum­mer months. It’s the per­fect place to en­joy the fresh­est, most lo­cally sourced seafood with a glass of prosecco out in the sea air with­out wor­ry­ing about food miles, and it’s all the bet­ter af­ter pay­ing a visit to the hatch­ery to learn more about these fas­ci­nat­ing crus­taceans and how Jane, David and Jack are cham­pi­oning their cause.

The Firth of Forth Lob­ster Hatch­ery is open from Easter un­til Oc­to­ber. www.firthof­forthlob­ster­hatch­

East Loth­ian has a long fish­ing her­itage and North Ber­wick har­bour had a large fleet

Main im­age: Above:

Above: Jane McMinn and her dog Bent­ley en­joy show­ing vis­i­tors around the hatch­ery.

Above: Fish­ing boats shel­ter be­hind the wall at North Ber­wick Har­bour. Below left: The Lob­ster Shack does a roar­ing trade. Below right: The fresh­est lob­ster and chips en­joyed with a side of sea air.

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