Researchers at the University of Tasmania’s ARC Research Hub for Commercial Development of Rock Lobster Culture Systems, led by Associate Professor Greg Smith, and headquartered at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, have developed technology that will enable the commercial scale hatchery production of rock lobsters (also known as spiny lobsters).

Until the University of Tasmania’s breakthrough, the complex and fragile larval stages and long life cycle of rock lobsters has made it impossible to produce the species commercially, with the only demonstration of rock lobster production in captivity occurring in small-scale systems.

The ARC Research Hub for Commercial Development of Rock Lobster Culture Systems, funded under the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hubs scheme, has developed innovative solutions to mass culture rock lobsters. These include water treatment technologies, specialised larval feeds and engineered mass culture vessels that has for the first time established a working model for future largescale hatcheries to produce commercial quantities of juvenile rock lobsters.

In step with the move towards commercialisation, the project’s intellectual property was transferred into a recently created corporate entity, UTAS-Nexus Aquasciences Pty Ltd (UNA). UNA has provided a vehicle into which partners can invest, and from which commercial and research licenses can be administered. UNA joined the ARC Research Hub as a participating organisation in 2017.

Industry partner PFG Group Pty Ltd, a Tasmanian advanced manufacturer of high-end mariculture facilities and equipment, invested in UNA and sublicensed the university’s Australian rights to exploit the technology for tropical and slipper lobster production and has committed to establishing the world’s-first, commercial-scale lobster hatchery in Australia. Leveraging new research, they hope to also develop on-land grow-out facilities. When all hatchery and support systems are completed, direct and indirect employment is estimated to exceed 500 new positions.

Rock lobsters are a fast growing and valuable food product in Australia and internationally. The use of the innovative hatchery technology developed in the ARC Research Hub will position Tasmania as the birthplace of a global industry for rock lobster aquaculture.

Image: Tropical Rock Lobster phyllosoma grown in culture.
Image credit: Photo provided by The ARC Research Hub for Commercial Development of Rock Lobster Culture Systems.