Lobster days at Kinross
Will over-fishing put the Sri Lankan Spiny Lobster on the endangered species list?
Spiny lobsters sometimes referred to as crayfish are found around the coast of Sri Lanka. They are of the family Palimuridae and known to exist in other parts of Asia too. Spiny lobsters lack the claws found in the North American variety. Lobsters are a highly favoured food item in the USA, Europe and Japan.

The local lobster fishery can meet only a very small percentage of the demand from the export market. The primary local demand of the tourist industry has declined due to the prevailing situation in the country. The decline is also due to unrestricted over-fishing.

The catching of female lobsters with eggs and the undersized is prohibited by law, but the manpower required to monitor this situation is not available. Occasionally however the airport customs do make a detection and the cargo is confiscated and produced in courts where the court orders that the lobsters be released into the sea in the case of live ones.

Lobsters are nocturnal creatures that come out to feed only during the night.In the daytime they hide in crevices in the reef. Night diving for lobsters has proved to be the most effective method of catching lobsters in Sri Lanka. Another method is the laying of nets.In Europe and the USA , laying of traps is the common method used.

The pioneer night diver in Sri Lanka was the late Dr. George de Bruin. Bruin, a Research Officer attached to the Department of Fisheries ventured out at night to study the habits of the Spiny Lobsters in the early 1960s. Diving underwater at night then, required courage as there was the danger of being attacked by sharks, barracudas and moray eels known to frequent tropical seas . Bruin initially used the Kinross Swimming & Life Saving Club as his base for his underwater research. Incidentally, this club can boast of introducing underwater diving in Sri Lanka. Bruin had an able assistant and partner, S.M.Farook in his early diving days.They would dive off at Wellawatte and in a matter of one or two hours bring ashore about fifty kilos of lobster. Others who joined them and later branched out on their own were T. Ariyaratne, G. VanCuylenberg, B'Da Silva, S.M. Wahab, A.J. Thaha, H.S. Fernando and C. de Almeida.

In night diving the diver ventured out to sea after sunset with an underwater torch, wearing thick cotton gloves. He would search for lobsters in the crevices of the reef and catch them with his bare hands thereby not harming the lobsters. Prior to this the diver went out on the reef and with a hand spear speared the lobster.

By this method a diver brought perhaps 1/2 a dozen or so dead lobsters ashore. Night diving by 2 or 3 divers resulted in a catch of over a hundred or hundred and fifty live lobsters. On most evenings in those early days the verandah of the Kinross Club was literally crawling with lobsters. These were sold to any member who cared to buy them at fifty cents each. In the early 1960s only two tourist hotels and a few restaurants served lobsters in Colombo. There was no market for lobsters as this was somewhat alien to the Ceylonese palate.

This situation began to change when the export of live and frozen lobster began around the late 1960s and early 1970s. Exporters went around the island encouraging the fishermen to fish for lobster. Some even gave them nets and taught them methods of lobster fishing. The export agents would be on the beach and pay the fishermen immediate cash for the lobsters.

The boom in Sri Lanka’s tourism has also increased the demand for lobsters. At present the fisherman is paid anything between Rs. 800/- to Rs. 1000/- per kilo of lobster. Over-fishing is being blamed for a marked decline in the catch of lobsters. A full grown lobster of around 400 grams would be at least five years old. Catching females with eggs and undersized lobsters disrupts the life cycle of the species.

If no serious attempt is made to tackle this situation we might soon see the Sri Lanka Spiny Lobster on the list of endangered species. - Diver

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