A LEADING North East fish merchant is gearing up for one of the busiest events of the year – and the arrival of 500 lobsters.

Hartlepool-based Hodgson Fish, which supplies seafood as far afield as Berwick, Cumbria and West Yorkshire – is responsible for providing the main attraction of the Lobster Ball, at Hardwick Hall Hotel.

And with less than three months to go until this year’s ball, on 27 April, preparations are underway to source perfectly sized specimens to serve to the estimated 1000 guests.

Three fishing boats, Silver Line, Sea Mist and Asgard, will harvest lobsters from about half a mile off the Hartlepool coast, using traditional lobster pots with fresh fish bones as bait.

The catches will then be transferred in a 25-strong fleet of refrigerated vans to Hodgson Fish, where they will be re-homed in sea water tanks.

A handpicked team, trained in caring for the crustaceans, will then grade them according to size, to ensure each lobster served at the Ball is identically proportioned.

“It is a lengthy and time-consuming process,” said owner Alan Hodgson, whose great grandfather started the business which he will, in turn, pass on to son Peter and daughter, Jill.

“It takes weeks to gather enough lobsters to ensure we have the numbers and sizes we need and the team care for them very well – turning them each over every day to make sure they are fit and healthy.

“We have provided lobsters for the ball since it started in 2006 and we pride ourselves on their quality and uniformity. You can’t have guests being served different sized lobsters – there would be a riot.”

The day before the ball, the lobsters are transported, still alive, to Hardwick Hall Hotel and handed over to award-winning chefs from The Rib Room Steakhouse and Grill, whose job is to prepare the four-course dinner.

John Adamson, owner of Hardwick Hall Hotel, said, “it’s no exaggeration to say the success of the event lies in the quality of the lobsters.

“They are what sets this Ball apart from every other charity fundraiser and we are proud of the fact they are locally sourced and that we are supporting businesses like Hodgson Fish and the fishermen who catch them.

“Our chefs treat them with great skill and care – and they taste spectacular, which is why the ball has become such a firm fixture on the social calendar.”

The 2018 Lobster Ball, which will feature a fashion show and live entertainment from Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge, is supported by sponsors including Great Annual Savings, Heineken and Aston Martin Newcastle.

The Ball has raised around £300,000 since it was first held in 2006 and all money raised from this year’s event will go to Stockton-based autism charity, Daisy Chain, which has been the Lobster Ball’s nominated charity since 2013.

Tickets, which cost £145 plus VAT per person and include complimentary wine, beer and lager throughout the night, are available by contacting the events team on 01740 620253 or by emailing events@hardwickhallhotel.co.uk.