Fish Hatchery and Lobster Rearing Station - Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Fish Hatchery and Lobster Rearing Station
Boothbay Harbor, Maine, c 1900.

Lobster hatcheries were developed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s for the purpose of restocking natural lobster stocks and closing the loop on the lobster life cycle. Lobster hatcheries have their origins rooted mostly in Scandinavia over 130 years ago. Norway played a significant role in the development and implementation of hatcheries for the culture of European lobster Homarus gammarus.

North America in the late 1880's saw a dramatic decline in lobster landings, which provided the drive for the first attempts at culturing lobsters (Homarus americanus) in Canada and Newfoundland (Waddy, 1998). The Dominion of Canada opened its first hatchery in 1891 at Bay View, Nova Scotia. Adolf Neilson, a Norwegian fisheries expert working for the Newfoundland government, began hatching lobsters in 1889 at the Dildo Island cod hatchery and four years later developed floating egg incubators.

In the early 1900’s lobsters hatcheries were built internationally throughout the USA, Canada, Norway, the UK and France for both American and European lobsters.

Lobster hatcheries in the USA made strides to enhance stocks and reduce larval mortality in the hatchery. Dr. A.D. Mead (1908) of the Rhode Island Commission of Inland Fisheries made strides to rear larvae to the fourth stage using a method he developed. Berried females were held in boxes on partially submerged rafts and the newly hatched larvae were reared in cages that incorporated a propeller mechanism that kept the water in constant circulation. Results were discouraging however and trials were discontinued after 2 to 3 years (Dawson, 1917).

The Massachusetts State Lobster Hatchery and Research Station was founded on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts in 1949. It was initially established to hatch, rear, and stock post-larval lobsters into the coastal waters of Massachusetts as an attempt to augment the natural supply. This hatchery mounted the most intense effort at rearing lobsters and helped to bridge the gap between first generation and enhancement hatcheries (M. Syslo and R. Cawthorne, pers comm.).

It wasn't really until the 1970's when a second wave from both the public and private sectors sparked an interest in lobster culturing again. Unlike the 1880’s, when the impetus had been declining lobster stocks, the appeal was now the potential for intensive, recirculating system lobster aquaculture to help meet the
demand for rising seafood consumption (Waddy, 1998). The American lobster was considered an ideal candidate for aquaculture because of its high value, international market appeal, and well-understood life cycle. The Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick became the world’s first integrated lobster culture facility in 1974 (Waddy, 1998). Other facilities in the United States were jointly integrated with this technology as well.

In the late 1970's the U.S. National Sea Grant Program helped to fund efforts for lobster culture. A pivotal point came in 1979 however when R&D proceeded its transition from the research scale to the pilot scale. Excessive and premature promotion from the research community caused the entrepreneurial interest to give out.