A new industry for the Caribbean: lobster farming
Anguilla, British West Indies
On this remote eastern Caribbean island, there is a new "lobster farm" that does more than just produce a costly food item. It has been designed specifically to introduce mari- culture -- the farming of the sea -- to isolated countries in the largely undeveloped Caribbean basin.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That's why, at Lobster Farms Ltd., the emphasis has been on using local materials and labor and on taking full advantage of the bountiful supply of warm , unpolluted water that is everywhere in the Caribbean. Methods that would seem primitive in the United States have been used here; absolute efficiency is a bit less important to the islands than self-sufficiency.
The Caribbean is a geographically and culturally disparate region with 15 million people scattered throughout 32 countries and thousands of islands. Many nations are beset by unemployment, poverty, and a trade deficit since they have no viable industry beyond scattered tourism. Although there are a few isolated mariculture operations in the US virgin Islands (where tilapia are raised), Grand Caymans (turtles), and Dominica (prawns), Lobster Farms is the first operation devoted to spreading the mariculture industry itself throughout the region.
"What we are selling here is not lobster -- it is lobster farms," explains Robert Sanders, an Anguilla banker and owner of Aquaculture Services Ltd., the operating company. "Aquaculture is an industry that we fell can make as big an impact in the Caribbean as sugar once did." Mr. Sanders selected aquaculture because it met certain needs peculiar to the islands. "We needed an industry that would import no raw materials, that had a technology easily transferable to locals, and that created a product so valuable that the market would come to the island," he explains. With lobsters retailing for $25 a pound in Japan, this particular enterprise seemed a potentially profitable proposition.
Anguilla, which voted to return to the British Commonwealth after several decades of relative independence, embodies many typical features of the needier Caribbean nations. Its 36 square miles of sand-covered limestone and white, palm-rimmed beaches support meager agriculture, fishing, and tourism industries and little else. Although nearby "developed" islands such as St. Martin rely on a healthy tourist trade to bolster their economies, many of Anguilla's 6,500 residents depend on a "remittance economy" in which family members leave the island to work.
There is no fresh-water supply on the island, and the country's overtaxed generators offer an uneven energy supply at best.
To adapt to these limitations, Lobster Farms has been developed with a "third world technology" that could be transferable anywhere in the Caribbean, according to Sterling Wadley, a Utah biologist hired to run the program."US technology just won't work here," Mr. Wadley says. "You can't keep a pump going , let alone a computer-operated gantry system for grow-out."
Lobster Farms has its own seven-kilowatt diesel generator, and the island power is generally regarded as a supplementary system. Water is gathered in roof cisterns for industrial and personal use. Seawater used in the open culturing system is collected in a ditchlike reservoir after percolating through a natural sand filtration system with each rise of the tide. A tin roof over the reservoir cools the water and an evaporation tower will enhance that effect. Inside the hatchery handmade insulated wooden cold boxes function as large coolers to lower the ambiant room temperature for early grow-out stages. Polypropolene milk bottles are even cut to serve as spawning trays for the female lobster.
Beyond its third-world orientation, the program is also unusual in that it cultures the meatier New England (American) lobster instead of the local clawless spiny.Extensive research already carried out under the sea grant program at Scripps Institute indicates that the cold-water American lobster can withstand temperatures up to 70 degrees F. In fact, lobsters cultured in the heated effluent of California power plants actually grew twice as fast as those in cooler waters. Since the year-round water temperatures of the Caribbean are closer to 80 degrees F., efforts have to be made to cool them for culturing.