Retailers turn to foreign lobsters as cold spring hits Scottish supplies

Sales of North American lobsters have rocketed in the last month after the abnormally cold spring caused a shortage in the North Sea lobster.

The Scottish Creel Fiserman’s Federation, which campaigns in favour of traditional and sustainable forms of coastal fishing for shell fish, released figures that showed a 90% drop in lobster supplies in the month of April as the freezing conditions forced lobsters into prolonged hibernation further away at sea.

There has also been a shortage in langoustines catches, with landings estimated to be down 70% on seasonal averages on the east coast of Scotland.

Fishermen are powerless to do anything about the crisis, which has mainly hit fishing communities between Peterhead and Eymouth.

Alistair Sinclair, the chairman of the SCFF, said they are waiting with “bated breath” for summer weather.

“”The east coast has experienced a winter of turbulence and a lot of damage has been caused by the winds.

“The prolonged cold snap has just set everything back. We are waiting with bated breath for the weather to improve soon. Lobster is as rare as hens’ teeth at the moment.”

The creel fishing industry is worth about £40 million a year to the Scottish economy and restaurants are already feeling the pinch, including the seafood restaurant Gamba in Glasgow, which has been forced to remove lobster from its menu after seeing a 72% rise in lobsters.

The restaurant’s owner and head chef Derek Marshall said they had no option but to take lobster off the menu and was not prepared to substitute it for foreign imports.

“Our Scottish lobster thermidor dish is one of the most popular items on our menu”, he said.

“A single portion is a half kilo and with the shortage and price hike we weren’t willing to ask our customers to pay the 72% increase.

“We also couldn’t guarantee that we would have lobster as our supplier has been struggling for weeks, with any Scottish lobster being shipped off to Europe.”

But not everyone is willing to take lobster off the menu and many retailers and restaurants have turned to North American suppliers to cut down on their costs. With Scottish lobster now costing a staggering £25 per kilo (up from £15 before the cold snap), and Canadian lobsters currently costing just £6 per kilo, it is easy to see why.

The freezing conditions have led to calls for a network of lobster hatcheries to be launched around the coast of Scotland to boost the industry.

Scotland currently only has one hatchery network but the SCFF is hoping to increase lobster stocks by nurturing larvae in special rearing tanks before releasing shoals of the young shellfish into the sea once they are big enough to survive.

With the increased use of hatcheries hoping to push up the number of adult lobsters to five million a year, the SCFF is confident this will provide a solution to future bouts of cold weather.

They are targeting Cruden Bay, Kyle of Lochalsh and an area on the Clyde for the new hatcheries, to add to the one in Orkney, but the plans will have to be approved by the Scottish Government.

Mr Sinclair said: “We are progressing towards the creation of lobster hatcheries around Scotland and have been in talks with Marine Scotland about this to bolster the stocks that we have.”

“You can buy a [north American] lobster in a supermarket for £6. It affords people the luxury of eating a luxury food cheaply. These are no comparison to our lobster. There is a difference in quality. Restaurants want local produce and, because there is less around, that is why they pay more.

“If we were able to catch more, we would be able to compete against the Canadian and American imports in the supermarkets.”

The SCFF’s proposed hatcheries are modelled on the Canadian versions and they hope to emulate the North Americans’ success over the coming years.

The Scottish Government said they are considering the plans and will report back within three months.

A spokeswoman said: “The fisheries secretary, Richard Lochhead, is aware of interest from the industry in introducing lobster hatcheries and has commissioned a feasibility study which will inform future policy in this area. The findings of the study are expected in July.”

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