Lobsters saved from the pot as part of North Berwick breeding programme

The hatchery releases V notched female lobsters at North Berwick Pier. Picture: Scott Taylor

The hatchery releases V notched female lobsters at North Berwick Pier. Picture: Scott Taylor

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Nippy, Crabbie and Snappie are enjoying a newfound taste of freedom after being saved from the pot to take part in a pioneering conservation project.

The three lobsters are among a number of females caught by local fishermen and handed over to experts for use in a breeding programme at Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery in North Berwick.

After doing their bit to help spawn a new generation of the lucrative shellfish, all the lobsters have now been marked and returned to the sea.

A special V-shaped notch has been clipped into the tail of each creature to indicate they are “breeding hens” and cannot be landed and sold if caught again in the future.

It takes a lobster seven or eight years to reach “plate size”, but the notches will give Nippy and her friends a stay of execution of around two years before they grow out naturally.

In a novel fundraising move, members of the public were invited to adopt and name the lobsters before they were freed.

“People are really embracing the work we’re doing,” said Maggie Shedden, information officer for the hatchery.

“We’re just a small charity, but people are enthusiastic about the work we’re doing. They feel they’re doing something very positive.

“As opposed to buying a stuffed toy or something, they are actually helping us put live lobsters back in the sea that won’t be eaten for a couple of years at least.

“By marking them like this we are giving them two more years of breeding. That’s really going to help local stocks, instead of just continually taking lobsters out of the sea.

“With a bit of luck we might even catch them in the future and V-notch them again.”

Lobsters were once a staple for peasants and prisoners, but are nowadays considered a delicacy. They fetch around £10 per kilo for fishermen.

Most of the Scottish catch is exported to Spain, but diners here will pay anything from around £15 for a half-lobster.

The hatchery was founded in 2010 and is only the second such enterprise in Scotland. The first, Europe’s largest, is in Orkney.

The North Berwick operation is run as a charity, and was the brainchild of three local lobster enthusiasts who invested their own money after plans to develop a larger hatchery at the Scottish Seabird Centre in the town fell through.

The original operations unit was badly damaged by storms in 2012 and had to be rebuilt.

A grant from the Coastal Communities Fund in 2014 has enabled the project to expand and hire seasonal staff, including a marine biologist.

The first 6000 juveniles to be reared at the site were released into the Forth last year. A further 10,000 are due to be released in coming days.