Food & Drink
The Lobster Pot
Tristan Wood is a third-generation lobsterman. His grandfather started The Lobster Pot restaurant on Anglesey in 1946. It’s still going today, a stone’s throw from the sea at Church Bay. Next door, Tristan runs an international seafood export business from a shiny new processing facility.
He took over in 2007. “The business had a very good name, and a very good supply, but it was ticking over, really,” says Tristan. “To begin with, I was just trying to maintain a stable business. I spent the first year trying to work out how to afford to employ staff, to allow for a little respite.”
Fast-forward 10 years, and The Lobster Pot now has more than 15 workers on the payroll. Tristan has built a £1m state-of-the-art facility to hold live common lobster and brown crab, ready for packing and distribution. The new factory keeps the crustaceans in the premium condition that The Lobster Pot’s international customers expect, as well as bringing new standards of excellence in traceability, food safety and environmental friendliness.
It was built with the help of funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which Tristan secured through the Welsh Government. “Since we finished building in 2014–15, the business has grown significantly. It’s made a huge difference,” says Tristan.
He now buys quantities of lobster and crab from fishermen all over the UK. A lot of the catch comes from Welsh waters. “It’s a very seasonal operation, based on water temperature,” says Tristan. “But our customers require products week in week out, all year round, so we buy nationwide. We start off buying from the south and work further north as the season progresses and the water warms up.”
Lobster is mainly exported to European markets, while most of their crab is flown to Asia and the Middle East. All of it arrives in tip-top condition, thanks to decades of know-how.
“The Lobster Pot has pioneered the logistics of transporting live shellfish over the years,” says Tristan. “We’ve been doing this for three generations, so we’ve learnt from experience. We were at the forefront of vivier transportation – where the produce is carried in water tanks with air bubbles running through them – back in the 1970s and 80s.”
They deliver lobsters to Europe in their own fleet of refrigerated lorries. Vivier tanks aren’t practical for airfreight, so they’ve perfected a way of transporting live seafood by air (the exact method is a family secret). As a result, they can guarantee that The Lobster Pot produce arrives at its far-flung destinations in perfect condition.
Sustainability is also a big consideration to Tristan’s business. Crustaceans like crab and lobster grow slowly. They’re vulnerable to over-fishing. They’ve made the cardinal evolutionary error of being delicious. Global demand is growing faster than supply.
Tristan thinks that the single most important conservation measure is a minimum landing size (MLS) brought in by the Welsh Government. It’s a simple measure of the length of the lobster’s carapace. In Wales it’s increased from 87mm, which tends to be the European minimum, to 90mm. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a significant difference: it means that lobsters get another year or two to grow – and, more importantly, to breed.
“Once those lobsters have grown to size, they’ll have reproduced at least once more than they would have otherwise,” says Tristan. “Hopefully that is helping to maintain our future stock levels in a very sensible way. It’s still early days, but I think it’s working. Last year we saw a 20% reduction in landings in Wales, but this year we’re back to where we were a few years ago. And hopefully in six or seven years, once those lobsters have released those eggs and they’ll have hatched, we’ll see increased landings.”
The Welsh Government also helps The Lobster Pot directly by supporting its presence at major trade shows, like the annual Global Seafood Expo in Brussels, the world’s biggest seafood trade fair, which brings together 30,000 buyers and suppliers from over 150 countries.
“It’s a huge event,” says Tristan. “It’s the meeting place to get everyone together from all parts of the globe. Over the last five or six years we’ve been given the opportunity to have some space on the Welsh Government stand. It’s made a considerable difference to our image, getting our name out there. Many of our existing customers attend, so it’s good to meet them. And it also gives us the opportunity to meet new customers.”
While The Lobster Pot continues to develop new markets around the world, and new technology back at HQ, its success remains rooted in rather more old-fashioned virtues: family, loyalty, integrity.
“We have a very loyal supply chain, and that helps us to guarantee a supply,” says Tristan. “My mother’s in her 70s and once a week she still drives a truck around the Llŷn peninsula to pick up shellfish from the fishermen. We’ve had relationships with those skippers for a very long time. We chose them because they care about their produce, and they chose us because they know we care, too.”