Hatchery-Based, Pilot, Lobster Farm in Sabah, Malaysia
Based in Western Australia, Lobster Harvest, Pty., Ltd., leads the world in lobster hatchery technology. It recently embarked on a lobster farming project in Sabah, East Malaysia, that will grow hatchery-produced, slipper lobsters in floating sea cages. Its hatchery-produced spiny lobsters will also be tested at the pilot farm.
Lobster Harvest is an outgrowth of the MG Kailis Group, which pioneered Western Australia’s lobster fishery fifty years ago. Kailis began its lobster hatchery research over ten years ago, and in June 2006, at its research facility in Exmouth, it successfully cultured spiny lobster through the sensitive larval stages and produced spiny lobster juveniles, the first organization in the world to do so. It did it again in 2007 and 2008, and the offspring were grown to adults. In 2007, it created Lobster Harvest, where it remains a major shareholder.
The Video: Before you read the rest of this report, I recommend that you watch the six-minute video of Lobster Harvest’s new pilot farm in Sabah, Malaysia. You’ll see shots of the floating sea cages, divers maintaining the cages, slipper lobsters on the bottom of sea cages, and workers preparing the fresh-fish feed—all accompanied with interesting dialogue from an unnamed company representative who said: We already have 10,000 slipper lobsters in the sea cages. They are doing very well, eating, growing and molting. They will go to restaurants in China in about nine months. CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO.
Background: On July 15, 2010, Singapore-based Oceanus Group, the world’s largest land-based abalone farm operator, inked a deal with Lobster Harvest to jointly farm slipper lobsters. Executive chairman of Oceanus, Dr. Ng Cher Yew, said he wanted to supply fresh and affordable live slipper lobster to restaurants in China and elsewhere.
Terry Burnage, general manager of Lobster Harvest, said, “Through MG Kailis, we have extensive wholesale and retail channels in western countries, and Oceanus brings to us the China market.”
Under the deal, Oceanus invested approximately $1 million in Lobster Harvest and got a 6.5% stake, plus an option to acquire additional shares. In addition, it will invest $2 million in two 50:50 joint ventures with Lobster Harvest, this one and one in China.
Species: At the new pilot farm in Malaysia, Lobster Harvest plans to grow the spiny lobster, Panulirus ornatus, and the slipper lobster, Thenus orientalis.
Panulirus ornatus: Everything about this spiny lobster conspires to make it a seafood status symbol. Its porcelain-perfect exoskeleton is overlaid with blue and orange decorations so striking that the word “ornament” appears in its scientific name. It shuns the cooking pot altogether and is served raw, sashimi style, typically at Chinese weddings. P. ornatus is expensive to produce, but the end product is so valuable, fetching up to $100 a kilogram wholesale, that hatchery-based ornatus farms offer an attractive commercial opportunity. Ornatus has the shortest larval cycle of any of the spiny lobsters, but compared to shrimp, it’s quite long, taking over 100 days.
At the World Aquaculture Society Meeting in New Orleans (March 2011), Roger M. Barnard, a Lobster Harvest representative, gave a presentation on the company’s work with P. ornatus. Here are some excerpts from that presentation, followed by some questions and answers from the audience:
P. ornatus is one of the fastest growing lobsters. Once it passes through the larval stage, which lasts 120 days (called the phyllosoma stage), it grows to one kilogram in 18 months. With improvements in nutrition and equipment, we expect to get the phyllosoma stage down to ninety days or less. Ornatus molts up to 23 times during that stage. After molting, when they are very fragile and susceptible to mechanical damage, bacterial infections often cause mortality. Wild ornatus postlarvae in Vietnam fetch up to $8 each, compared to shrimp postlarvae at about one cent each!
Lobster Harvest is currently developing turnkey, production systems that include: breeding facilities, hatcheries, nurseries, growout equipment and marketing. We have started a selective breeding program that’s focused on growth rate.
During the question and answer period, someone in the audience asked Barnard if ornatus was cannibalistic.
Barnard: Not during the larval stage, but they become cannibalistic for four or five months as juveniles, so you have to give them a lot of space, use low stocking densities and provide good nutrition and shelter. Immediately after molting, their vulnerability to cannibalism increases greatly, so shelter is important. Once they get to five or ten grams, the cannibalism stops, if you feed them enough.
Another person asked: What percent of a market-size ornatus lobster is meat?
Barnard: About 40%.
Another question: Lobster farmers in Asia feed their animals chopped up fresh trash fish. How much of that food is wasted or escapes into the environment?
Barnard: The waste from floating lobsters farms in Asia is pretty high, and the food conversion ratio in the cages is pretty bad. For the last five years, the Australia Government has funded research to develop better diets for spiny lobsters, and we are doing our own research on a formulated diet. With pellets in tanks and raceways, we’re getting FCRs as low as 3:1.
Another question: What will your selling price be for ornatus postlarvae?
Barnard: We’re working on that. With wild postlarvae going for $8 each, we hope to be at least half of that. In Vietnam, where they produce approximately 2,000 metric tons of spiny lobster a year, their production costs are about $25 a kilo.
Shrimp News asked Barnard if the $100 a kilo price for ornatus was seasonal?
Barnard: Yes, that price occurs in Hong Kong and China for live animals during the Chinese New Year. The rest of the year, prices range from $65 to $70 a kilo.
Thenus orientalis: This slipper lobster has one of the shortest larval cycles of any lobster. It can be grown to a marketable size in about 14 to 15 months. It’s very docile, gregarious and easy to transport. It likes density, but unlike the North American lobster (Homarus americanus), it’s not cannibalistic. In Australia, it’s widely known as the Moreton Bay bug, after Moreton Bay in Queensland. T. orientalis has a very flat body and grows to a maximum length of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches).
Free Copy of the Proceedings of a Conference on Spiny Lobster Farming: Published by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Spiny Lobster Aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific Region is the 162-page proceedings of an international conference held in Nha Trang, Vietnam, on December 9–10, 2008. In addition to papers contributed by leading lobster researchers in the Asia–Pacific region, the proceedings contains 16 papers that report the results of research carried out in a four-year ACIAR lobster aquaculture project involving six agencies from Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Click on the above link for your free copy.
Information: Terry Burnage (firstname.lastname@example.org), General Manager, Lobster Harvest, Pty., Ltd., 50 Mews Road, Fremantle, Western Australia 6160, Australia (phone 61-8-9239-9239, fax 61-8-9239-9234, email email@example.com, webpage http://www.lobsterharvest.com.au).
Information: Dr. Ng Cher Yew, Executive Chairman, Oceanus Group Limited, 61 Robinson Road, #10-01 Singapore 068893 (phone 65-6837-0568 fax 65-683-2660, webpage http://www.oceanus.com.sg).
Sources: 1. YouTube Video. Lobster Harvest Farm for Slipper and Tropical Rock Lobster (Sabah, Malaysia). June 22, 2011. 2. Lobster Harvest’s webpage. June 28, 2011. 3. Next Insight. OCEANUS (No.1 in Abalone Farming): Venturing into Lobster Farming. Sim Kih. July 16, 2010. 4. World Aquaculture Society. The CD/Abstracts of Aquaculture America 2011. Spiny Lobster Aquaculture in Australia Produces Second Generation (F2) of the Tropical Lobster, Panulirus ornatus. Roger M. Barnard (firstname.lastname@example.org), Matthew D. Johnston and Bruce Phillips (Lobster Harvest, Ltd., Western Australia). New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, March 2011. 5. Shrimp News’s recording of Barnard’s presentation at the World Aquaculture Society Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, March 2011. 6. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, July 1, 2011 (updated with additional information on Panulirus ornatus on July 5, 2011).