The Eastern Scheldt lobster is a remarkable and unique 'product' from the Eastern Scheldt. Scientific research has shown that the Eastern Scheldt lobster's gentler, mellower flavour is due to its dna structure, which differs from that of other lobster species. Moreover, the Eastern Scheldt lobster's freshness (straight from the Eastern Scheldt to restaurants) guarantees a high-quality product. It is also noted for being fished sustainably.
Lobsters are common in European waters, from the Black Sea up to Norway's Lofoten archipelago. The living environment of the European lobster (Homarus gammarus) only needs to meet a single condition: it must be rocky. Gaps and chasms between the rocks offer natural hiding places. The Eastern Scheldt estuary is not naturally rocky: the seabed is mostly sandy and muddy. As recently as 150 years ago, large quantities of rocks were deposited into the estuary to aid in the construction of dykes.
Fishermen, who were (and still are) quite familiar with the Eastern Scheldt, were therefore stunned when they caught their first lobster there in 1883. Later, all catches were carefully registered by the local fishery management board, the Bestuur der Visscherijen op de Zeeuwsche Stroomen. Among other things, these records show that the lobster population was almost decimated after each harsh winter, after which it gradually recovered. The inevitable conclusion, then, is that the Eastern Scheldt lobster is an immigrant – but where does 'our' lobster come from originally?
During the Dutch Golden Age, Zierikzee was the hub from where almost all langoustines were transported to Europe's main cities. The story goes that a ship carrying live langoustines sank off Zierikzee in the 18th century. The animals that escaped are supposed to be the ancestors of the Eastern Scheldt lobster. Many biologists take this origin story with a generous pinch of (sea) salt, however. While it may be a nice fisherman's yarn, they point out that it is far removed from biological reality. During the first few weeks after hatching, langoustine larvae spend some time swimming around. It's not until two weeks later that they descend to the bottom in the area where the current has carried them.
“Lobsters can pinch with a force of 100 kg/cm²”
In the North Sea, naturally rocky seabeds are only found off the coasts of Norway and Sweden and in the Strait of Dover. Lobsters have also been known to burrow in shipwrecks and under Iron Age stones dotted about the North Sea seabed. It's highly likely that the lobsters that make it to the Eastern Scheldt originate as larvae in these waters. The first Eastern Scheldt lobster undoubtedly made its way there from the North Sea to breed in almost (but not entirely) perfect isolation, given that so little water flows between the Eastern Scheldt and the North Sea.
Ultimately, European DNA research was required to obtain some clarity about the origins of the Eastern Scheldt lobster. This proved that the tasty arthropods from the Eastern Scheldt have a distinctive DNA.
On this basis, the history of the Eastern Scheldt lobster unspools as follows. Prior to the damming of the Kreekrak between Zuid-Beveland and Brabant in 1868, larvae that flowed in from the North Sea were unable to survive, grow and breed, since there was too sharp a decrease in the Eastern Scheldt's salinity in winter. This was because in winter, the fresh water in the river Scheldt largely flowed through the Eastern Scheldt estuary on its way to the sea. Following the damming, the only way the fresh water could reach the sea was through the Western Scheldt, and the lobster population in the Eastern Scheldt started to grow. Aside from low-salinity waters, waters that are too cold also create adverse conditions for lobsters. Over the past century and a half, this has resulted in the decimation of the lobster population during harsh winters. Many more lobsters died during the construction of the Delta works on account of the large volumes of fresh water flowing from the major rivers through the Eastern Scheldt to the North Sea.
These deaths from low temperatures and low salinity form part of a cycle, in which the lobster population has to be rebuilt almost from scratch each time from a few very hardy specimens that survive everything that nature throws at them. As a result of this pronounced natural selection process, the DNA of the Eastern Scheldt lobster is based on very few lobster specimens. Other European lobsters are much more varied in terms of their DNA. This difference accounts for the uniqueness of the Eastern Scheldt lobster.
During the official opening of the lobster season on 28 March, lobster fisherman Gerrie van den Hoek will team up with a number of ambassadors to catch the very first Eastern Scheldt lobster of the season. As the guest of honour, sports commentator Kees Jansma will take receipt of this specimen. In addition, Ronald Koeman (manager of the Dutch national men's football team) will serve as auctioneer at the 'lobster mine' in Colijnsplaat. The proceeds will benefit Support Casper, part of the Survival with Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. The aim of this foundation is to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and raise funds for research into new and innovative treatments.
LARGO is always happy to help small-scale, local suppliers. Given LARGO's many accommodations and resorts on the Zeeland islands, it is proud to be associated with this year's opening of the new Eastern Scheldt lobster season. There are no fewer than 16 top restaurants in the immediate vicinity of LARGO's Zeeland resorts that will be serving Eastern Scheldt lobster this spring. We would be happy to reserve a table at the restaurant of your choice during your stay, so that you can taste this local delicacy for yourself.
Together, the participating restaurants form the Eastern Scheldt Lobster Circle. The Circle has 16 members throughout Zeeland. The owners of these restaurants support sustainable fishing and exchange new dishes several times a year. Each year, guests can choose from a selection of carefully composed and unique Eastern Scheldt lobster menus at a price of €64.50 a head. Click here for more information on the participating restaurants.
“The largest lobster ever caught measured 65 cm - more than one metre if you includee its pincers”
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