John Paul Tiernan
The same weather dynamics that grounded thousands of planes this week launched more than a few boats in the West of Ireland. One of the features of a blocking high pressure in the North Atlantic is a consistent run of light northerly winds. To an aviation authority, this means a countrywide headache if there is an active volcano to your north, to a fisherman in Mayo, however, it means calm untroubled seas and a green light to spending long days on them.
Some modest currachs will be cleaned and outboards primed for evenings after mackerel starting in the next month or so, and the bigger trawlers do their thing over the horizon toward the Porcupine Bank, but it was a lobster boat that caught my eye last week.
Recovering pots it had laid a few days previously, it anchored over a shallow reef that hosts a breaking wave every other day in winter. Lobsters move into shallower waters from the deep at this time of year, but I had never seen a boat drop pots in a spot this shallow and close to the beach before.
A report by Bord Iascaigh Mhara in 2008 suggested lobster catches were declining nationwide, but not in this region; probably due to a successful V notching programme (cutting Vs into the tails of female lobsters indicating they are not to be taken). I wondered were nationwide trends catching up and forcing this fisherman into newer grounds or was he just trying to spread his efforts?
The future for lobster, the Marine Institute tell us, like for so many other species, will eventually be in aquaculture and restocking activities. Lobsters are notoriously troublesome to raise in captivity; they don’t breed well in artificial conditions, grow slowly and if they do survive, make exceptionally poor housemates, viciously attacking and often eating their fellow aquarium inhabitants and species.
Seamus Mac an Iomaire in the landmark ‘Shores of Connemara’, wrote of the lobster’s viciousness with other marine life and going ‘berserk’ when hungry, often stealing bait off fishermen; this hunger and skill of course eventually drawing him into the first of two pots (the second being in a kitchen somewhere).
However, years of trials in Clew Bay and The Killary Harbour finally delivered workable results last year. The scientists involved, who were from Norway, Ireland and Spain figured out the best way to work with the problematic crustaceans was to simply leave them alone. They left the juvenile lobsters to culture in oyster baskets, letting them feed on plankton in the surrounding water and whatever grew on the structure of the baskets.
The results were good and the scientists are confident that this will mean the ability to restock populations in the future. And more of any natural resource, that we own, is good for Mayo and good for Ireland right now.
John Paul Teirnan, Louisburgh, runs www.irishmarinelife.com, a website dedicated to the creation of knowledge of our marine ecosystems. He is currently studying for an MSc in Marine Science.