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The National Lobster Hatchery: Releasing future generations of lobsters into the ocean

The National Lobster Hatchery’s small but mighty team is doing great things in the name of marine conservation and research, raising lobsters from hatchlings until the moment they are released into the sea.

Wadebridge Life was lucky enough to catch up with Chris Weston, hatchery technician and education officer, and Nicola O’Donnell, chief operating officer, to see what this fantastic facility - based in Padstow - does throughout the year, and what support the local community can provide.

Walking into the visitor centre, there is a fantastic display for people to marvel at, with the resident lobsters keeping their beady eyes on the public from big bubble windows and tanks. The visitor centre is educational, providing information about these curious creatures of the ocean. Behind the remarkable visitor centre is the hatchery itself - a well-equipped space for the hatchery team to work, and home to thousands of young lobsters.

Cornwall has a prolific food and drink sector, with seafood topping the list. Sadly, due to overfishing across the world, plus the effects of climate change, many species of sea life are at risk of becoming endangered. The National Lobster Hatchery aims to avoid this fate for lobsters, working to bring as many eggs as possible to the point where the young lobsters can be released back into the ocean, where they belong.

The hatchery works with around 15 local, sustainably-minded fishermen who source pregnant lobsters from the sea, holding licensing to be able to do so. Each fisherman can only take up to ten lobsters a day, before they are handed over to the hatchery, who disinfect them and then place them in big containers, which are at one of two different temperatures to ensure the eggs can develop correctly. The water temperature replicates the summer sea temperatures here in Cornwall.

A lobster typically can carry between 10,000 to 40,000 eggs, depending on how large it is, with the eggs taking nine months to develop. Once they turn a shade of red, the team transfers the eggs to the ‘maternity ward’, where they hatch -normally in the evening hours under moonlight when in the ocean, but under a special light in the hatchery - appearing as tiny plankton. The hatchlings moult every few days, taking around two weeks for them to get to the size of a small lobster. This usually means they have managed to avoid being eaten by their siblings, and are more likely to get away from other predators.

Chris said: “Part of our work is to offset the pressure from fishing. In the last 50 to 100 years, fishing pressure has had an impact on sea life.”

Once the lobsters are ready, the team releases them into the sea all along the coastline, where they will be able to settle into rocks, sand and crevices in their natural habitat.

The National Lobster Hatchery is a charity that was created in 1998. They put preventative measures in place to reduce the risk of endangerment to Cornwall’s lobster population. Chris added: “It is tricky to monitor anything in the sea, but with the slight increase in fishing efforts combined with no increase in catch, it suggests that there might be a decline.”

Speaking about their purpose-built visitor centre, Nicola said: “For a day out with a difference and the best way the local community can support is by coming to see the team at our visitors centre here in Padstow. The centre is one of the only conservation projects worldwide, you can see behind the scenes."

The hatchery does not receive government funding from outside of the charity, and relies on a steady stream of visitors and loyal supporters. The hatchery is open seven days a week, welcoming visitors all year round, and offering fantastic annual passes; a family of four is £19.75 for the year. Nicola added: “We invite the public to join in some of our shore releases, all details are shared via our social media - a great chance for families or anyone interested to release some babies and see the project in action.”

Follow the National Lobster Hatchery on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for updates on lobster releases and all the latest news from the team. Passes can be purchased from


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