Some Dutch citizens consider the Eastern Scheldt lobster to be just another aquatic animal from Zeeland, while a great many others start salivating at the mere mention of its name. What is so special about this relative recent arrival to Zeeland?
There is a brief breach of the peace at the annual kick-off of the lobster season in Zierikzee, Zeeland at the end of March. Amid hundreds of admiring spectators, lobster fisherman Gerrie van den Hoek opens the trap to retrieve the first large Eastern Scheldt lobster of the season. Before long, the same heavily armoured black-and-blue lobster is auctioned for €50,000 by Ronald Koeman, the coach of the Dutch national football team. This sum of money marks yet another record and will benefit research into pancreatic cancer.
The official kick-off of the Eastern Scheldt lobster season traditionally takes place on the last Thursday in March. Lovers of lobster meat can then satisfy their cravings in one of the many restaurants in Zeeland, where the exceptional constitution of this well-settled species is subjected to their cooking techniques. Most Eastern Scheldt lobsters are only served until 15 July.
What is so special about this Eastern Scheldt lobster? This lobster was originally an exotic species that has become well settled in the abundant waters of Zeeland. The tallest tale tells of the arthropod arriving in the Eastern Scheldt after a Norwegian vessel with live lobsters sank within sight of Zierikzee Port. For a more reasonable explanation, both Zierikzee and Yerseke used to be key transit ports for trading fish, shellfish as well as lobsters caught in Sweden. As a preservative, the traders stored the animals in wells connected to the Eastern Scheldt. It would have been easy for their eggs to end up in the waters of Zeeland.
The backdrop of the Eastern Scheldt was where the lobster immigrant turned into a unique specimen of Zeeland. According to European research, the DNA of the Eastern Scheldt lobsters differs from that of European lobsters. The isolated location and aberrant environment of the Eastern Scheldt, where only the fittest lobsters can make it through the cold winter, are responsible for this difference. Connoisseurs consider these circumstances, which have resulted in a lobster with unique DNA, to be behind the soft texture and special taste of the lobster meat. Anyone with a love for the texture and taste of lobsters can call on one of the many restaurants in the island province of Zeeland during the season.
“Lobsters are faithful to their home waters”Marnix van Stralen
‘Lobsters are home-loving’, said biologist Marnix van Stralen, who investigated lobsters in the Eastern Scheldt. ‘They display highly territorial behaviour and fight among the rocks for the best spots. The surprising thing is that lobsters are cannibals, so they are the worst enemy of their own species. Their three pairs of claws act like a Swiss army knife, each pair being used for a different purpose. While the larger, bulkier pair is able to pry open shellfish and the carapaces of crabs or other lobsters, the two smaller pairs serve as cutlery.
Older lobsters that avoid being caught or consumed by their kind often die from “fouling”, a process in which smaller animals and plants attach themselves to the carapace. Some lobsters caught in the Eastern Scheldt even have large oysters on them. By contrast, young specimens remain “clean” by repeatedly shedding their armour, as they need to moult in order to grow.’
The sites where Eastern Scheldt lobsters could be caught this year were divided among the fishermen through a fishing plan. In the view of lobster fisherman Van den Hoek, this process is much fairer. ‘During the past two years, we used to dash around the area in our boats to install the lobster traps. The best spots were always taken by the crew with the largest engine on board. It is fortunate that we now decide by mutual arrangement.’
The main aim of the fishing plan is to guarantee a sustainable catch. Catching Eastern Scheldt lobsters is only allowed in the three and a half months until 15 July. It is just the large lobsters that are caught. ‘If the fused part of a captive lobster's carapace is less than 87 millimetres in width, we do not take it. This width corresponds to a length of about 30 centimetres and a weight of around 500 grams. Should a lobster carry eggs, we return it to the sea straight away as well. When my son is older, he would also like to be a fisherman. As a result, I feel responsible for ensuring that Eastern Scheldt lobsters continue to thrive here.’