Scientists Assessing the Perfect Aquarium Rock Lobsters


17 August 2010

It is one of the Holy Grails of the aquarium industry – the ability to rear, in captivity, highly prized ornamental marine animals to supply the multi-million dollar aquarium sector.

Several species of Australian crustaceans, such as the ornate and painted spiny lobster and cleaner shrimps, like the world-famous Jacques from Finding Nemo – are candidates for enthusiasts' fish tanks.

At present, demand for these animals is satisfied by collection from wild stocks, potentially impacting natural population levels. However, scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) headquarters at Cape Ferguson, near Townsville, are developing the hatchery and nursery technologies required for mass production of such crustaceans.

"The goal is to develop the technology to produce animals not only for aquariums but also to supply the increasing demand for high value seafood – of which lobsters are the most highly prized and valued", said Dr Mike Hall, leader of the Tropical Aquaculture Research Program at AIMS.

Lobsters are only suitable for use in normal-sized fish tanks when they are small juveniles. They are suitable for an aquarium tank for a few years but will eventually out-grow the tank as they reach full adulthood.

"After that", said Dr Hall, "the owner would have the added benefit of inviting the lobster to dinner – where it could be the main course".

These animals, in their juvenile form, are highly sought after by marine aquarium enthusiasts and can fetch up to $150 per individual – equivalent to $50,000 per kilogram. The same species as an adult in the seafood trade is worth between $60 and $100 per kilogram. Likewise, although not eaten as seafood, cleaner shrimps, at between $100 to $125 each, are worth $60,000 per kilogram.

The Institute's researchers have successfully managed to get lobster larvae through the hatchery cycle on an artificial feed formulated and developed at our Townsville headquarters. This is thought to be a world first and a major step towards the development of a commercially viable hatchery technology for mass production of lobsters. In addition, the Institute's scientists and AIMS@JCU collaborators, have reared cleaner shrimps from the egg.

Dr Hall says the next stage is the possibility of true farming, allowing animals to be selected and bred on the basis of traits that make some species more suitable for aquarium display.

‘It would be possible to breed a docile marine aquarium lobster that would be more like ‘look at me, look at me' rather than one that likes to hide,' Dr Hall said.

Story and Images available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aims_gov_au/sets/

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For further information contact:

Dr Mike Hall, AIMS Principal Research Scientist, 07 4753 4308; 0407 553 408; m.hall@aims.gov.au

Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison, 07 4753 4409; 0418 729 265; w.ellery@aims.gov.au

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