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A Day In The Life: Belhaven Lobster

It is Bank Holiday Monday and my alarm clock rings at 2.15am. As I stumble and fumble my way out of my bed, somehow getting myself dressed in the process, I realise that I am up at this ungodly hour for a specific reason...I am spending a day with Belhaven Lobster as they catch Lobster off the East Coast of Scotland.

Belhaven Lobster are a family run business who have been fishing from Victoria Harbour in Dunbar for over 30 years and was founded by Eddie MacFarlane. Following Eddie’s retirement, the reigns were handed down to his son Lawrie, who now skippers the fishing vessel called ‘Tangaroa’. The family pride themselves in delivering exceptional sustainably sourced shellfish and do so by using creels.

I originally reached out to Lawrie as a customer who was looking to order the fresh seafood available and over the last couple of months, following their endeavours across social media, I asked if I could shadow them on a days work and see just exactly what they do and how they do it. He kindly obliged as long as a 4am start didn’t put me didn’t.

I met Lawrie and his crew mate Craig at the harbour and following a brief discussion about the day ahead, we set off. It was at this point I regretted boarding a boat on an empty stomach but let’s just say I wasn’t well towards the end of our travels.

I apologise in advance for asking too many questions but I feel the phrase “sustainably sourced” is used on a whim these days and I was keen to know what steps they take to ensure they source the best produce and what legislations are in place, if any, regarding the size of the catch etc.

Lawrie and Craig explained whilst demonstrating that all catch is measured and if they are considered too small, they are returned to the ocean. They also explained that if they catch any female lobsters (called a “Hen”) that are berried (carrying eggs) then they will return them to the ocean.

In England it is illegal to catch a berried lobster but not so much in Scotland. They explained that roughly 10% of lobster eggs survive and in order to maintain the lobster population, it is better to return them to the sea to hatch the eggs. Lobsters with soft shells are also returned to the ocean in order to develop their shells and mature.

(A berried lobster that was safely returned)

(Lawrie and Craig checking the creels)

As I sat at the back of boat, eagerly watching them sift through and quality check their catch in each creel, it hit home just how much time and effort goes into catching the lobster and crab. They operate in unison like a well oiled machine and apart from a bit of small talk, it’s nothing but graft. In terms of quality checking, they can determine very easily if the lobster meets the criteria for catching and if they are too small then they are returned. Witnessing this first hand was great because you know they aren't just landing every lobster available purely for number, in fact they mentioned it can take a lobster several years for them to mature to the age and size they need to be for catching, which reinforces the importance of responsible and sustainable lobster fishing.

Working in the ocean poses a series of challenges to these guys and as I found out, it can go from calm to choppy very quickly (something that caught me off guard) but for the guys, they were unfazed . As we headed towards the Bass Rock the swell was particularly bad, well it was for me, and disaster struck. My sea legs were no more and I was feeding the fish with whatever my body was rejecting. Was it the lack of food, was it the smell of the fish frames Craig removed and replaced from the creels? Who knows but we had a chuckle and headed towards our next location.

During my time spent with the guys I learned a lot about them and their passion for what they do is unrivalled. The way they talk about their livelihood is refreshing and, for me, is a gentle reminder not to take my food for granted. Whether the food we eat is Field to Fork, Farm to Table or Sea to Plate, there will always be someone out there, doing the graft, spending long unsociable hours to deliver exceptional produce and this is something we should not take for granted.

As we dock in the Harbour, we take stock of today’s catch: lobster, brown crab, sea urchins and whelks. Lawrie shows me the holding tanks where they store the lobsters until collection but you can also buy direct from their unit at Victoria Harbour. They not only supply to restaurants across Edinburgh and the Lothians but to the public too. There is no plastic packaging to be seen and everything is as fresh and as local as you could imagine.

Unlike a supermarket, the person selling to you is the very person who has spent hours at sea, away from family in all weather and for that we should all be thankful for. The money you spend goes direct to that person and supports their family and livelihood.

I want to end this on a high note and say a massive thank you to Belhaven Lobster for having me onboard. You can find them at Victoria Harbour in Dunbar, East Lothian and online: