Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Big Dessie: Northern Ireland’s largest lobster

Catch of the day: Dessie the lobster is estimated to be between 60 and 70 years old
Catch of the day: Dessie the lobster is estimated to be between 60 and 70 years old

He's twice the weight of a Yorkshire terrier and eligible for a senior’s bus pass — meet ‘Big Dessie’, Northern Ireland’s largest lobster.

With a crushing claw alone weighing almost three times that of a normal crustacean, a Portrush man got the shock of his life as he pulled the ancient and weighty critter out of the sea.

Michael Hassan, who has been fishing the seas around Portrush for more than two decades, said he initially thought he had snagged a conger eel in his pot.

“He was caught on Saturday afternoon at the Skerries in Portrush.

“It was in a lobster pot — and a miracle how he fitted in.

“We initially thought it was a conger eel because it was just such a mass of black — definitely the biggest I’ve seen in 25 years.”

At around 11lbs in weight, more than two feet long, 13 inches in girth and very much in his retirement at around 60-70 years old, Michael said it was unbelievable how Dessie had avoided being snapped up for almost seven decades.

He named the barnacle covered beast after his father, Des.

“Dessie is very docile and barely moves. Smaller ones could nip you but this one could easily snap your wrist.

“Anyone who has seen it has been amazed by it.”

On the rather sensitive topic of whether the crusty old fella was destined for the pot, Michael said it was the last thing that crossed his mind.

“I couldn’t see him go, so instead of going to the market he became my lobster. I tried frantically for a day or two to find a home for him.”

And Michael struck it lucky — as Galway’s Atlantaquaria has agreed to take the lucky lobster in. Big Dessie is now certain to become one of the centre’s star attractions.

According to the fisherman, his catch could be worth as much as £300 if it had the misfortune of finding his way onto one of Northern Ireland’s top restaurant menus.

Michael said that his three-year-old daughter Maisey, who isn’t much bigger than the giant sea creature herself, was overwhelmed by her father’s catch of the day.

“Maisey’s lobster crazy, she’s fanatical about them, and enjoys eating them too. When she saw it she thought it was amazing.

“But Maisey wouldn’t want a thing like Big Dessie killed — certainly not.”

It will be an emotional day for the Hassan family tomorrow when Michael makes the long drive to Big Dessie’s new home in Galway.

“I’ll be glad to get him to Galway alive and see him settled in,” he said.



Why’s he so old? He didn’t get caught

Tania Singleton, senior aquarist at Exploris in Portaferry, said the crustacean is one of the largest she has come across.

“I mean, a lobster to get to that age is rare — it’s quite an elderly one, certainly.

“He looks like a typical lobster, sometimes they come in with different sized claws.

“They are basically scavengers, anything they find. Most will come out at night to feed on anything at all.

“They grow at around five years per pound. The big ones are just very, very lucky that they have not been caught.”

Tania said that although potentially valuable, aged lobsters as large as Dessie are not recommended for eating.

“Apparently a very old lobster doesn’t taste very nice — I don’t eat lobster myself so there’s no chance of me trying.

“I think it would have been such a shame that someone would have.”

The centre had to turn down owner Michael Hassan’s offer to take on his lobster as its tank was unavailable.

“The problem with keeping lobster is they can only get in certain tanks, only tanks that don’t have a gravel bed because they dig. There was nowhere else.”

Tania said that in her own experience even smaller lobsters have the ability to inflict serious damage to those putting their pinky in harms way.

“A member of staff here got a bone broken dealing with a normal lobster, so even a normal-sized one can break bones.

“They have two types of claw, clipping and crushing; the big one does the damage.”

“Most people that eat lobster are used to seeing a small lobster on their plate, so with this one it really is a shock.”

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