Lobster, European

Homarus gammarus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pot or creel
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northumberland Durham
Stock detail — 4b: North Eastern IFCA District (0-6nm)
Picture of Lobster, European

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2020.

In Northumberland and Durham, fishing mortality of European lobster is high, above the limit reference point for both sexes. Biomass is low, just above the minimum reference point for males and below for females. Management measures in place include a ban on the landing of berried and v-notched lobsters, and a minimum conservation reference size of 87mm carapace length, but there are no catch or effort limitations in place. Management measures are considered insufficient to recover the stock. Pot fishing is considered sustainable as it is selective for larger individuals and has minimal impact on the surrounding environment.


The lobster’s appearance is unmistakable: dark blue shell (turns red only when boiled) with pale yellow markings and long red antennae. The claws are of unequal size, with one large crushing claw and a slimmer cutting claw. European lobster can be found from Scandinavia to North Africa, including the Mediterranean and Black Seas, where they occupy solitary shelters in rocky substrates at depths of 0 to 150 m, but usually not deeper than 50 m. They are nocturnal and territorial animals living in holes or crevices. Common total length: 23 to 50 cm (maximum length 100 cm), maximum weight 9kg. In the absence of exploitation the life span is probably 10 years, but they may live 50 years or more. They are opportunistic scavengers, as well as preying on small crustaceans, molluscs and polychaetes. European lobsters are sedentary animals with home ranges varying from 2 to 10 km, although some inshore/offshore and longshore migration may take place. In most areas lobsters do not mature before 5 to 8 years (depending on water temperature), with females maturing at around 7.5-8.0 cm carapace length (CL). Males reach sexual maturity earlier than females. Genetic data suggests that females in the wild mate with a single male. Results from tank experiments demonstrate that individual males can fertilise several females in the same season and this is likely to be the case in the wild. Thus the normal breeding system in the wild is likely to be polygynous. Lobsters mate in late summer when the females moult, but females can store the sperm packet over the winter so eggs are not fertilised and laid until the following summer (around July). Since eggs are carried for 10 to 11 months, females with eggs (termed ‘berried’) are usually found throughout the year. Moulting occurs in summer, approximately once a year for adults, becoming less frequent in older animals, and mating occurs soon after the female has moulted. There are 3 larval stages, lasting 3-4 weeks, before the post-larvae settle on the seabed. Larval distribution depends on local hydrographical conditions and pre-recruit behaviour, and as such, is highly variable.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

European lobster can be found from Scandinavia to North Africa. CEFAS defines six Lobster Fishery Units for England and publishes stock status reports for each area every 2 years.

In the latest stock assessment (2019), fishing mortality (F) of European lobster in the Northumberland & Durham area is high, above the limit reference point for males and females, although there is a decreasing trend for fishing mortality on males since 2012.

The biomass status is low, male biomass is just above the minimum reference point and female biomass is below. The status of the stock in relation to the reference points has not changed since the 2017 assessment.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

This assessment is for the European lobster fishery (Northumberland stock) in the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) district. Management measures in place for this fishery are not effective in managing the stock.

North Eastern IFCA have a vessel length limit in place of 10m in 0-3nm and 16m in 3-6nm. All vessels registered in the UK must have a domestic fishing vessel license to fish within the UK EEZ for sea fish that will be sold. No new licenses are being issued. All commercial vessels under 10m, with a shellfish license, are required to complete Monthly Shellfish Activity Return (MSAR) forms for the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). These must include the catch and retained weight each day along with the date, name of the vessel, vessel registration number, gear type, area and port of landing. All vessels over 10m do not need to complete MSAR as they will be completing an EU logbook of catches. For all vessels, effort is reported as days fished, and not as pots fished. In the North Eastern IFCA district, you must also have a permit to commercially fish for crabs and lobsters.

Crab and lobster fisheries are not limited by EU Total Allowable Catch (TAC) regulations or national regulations, and therefore are not limited in the number of lobsters they can take. North Eastern IFCA have also not introduced a pot limit for crab and lobster fisheries. However, in this area, pot size in limited to 50cm high x 60cm x 110cm long.

In this area, there is a Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) of 87mm carapace length. According to CEFAS, around 100% of males and 80% of females should be sexually mature at this size. National legislation in England and Wales also prohibits the landing of berried lobsters and those with a v-notch in their tail fan. V-notching of lobsters requires removing a V-shaped piece of exoskeleton from the uropod (inner tail flap) of female lobsters of reproductive size which are carrying eggs, then returning the lobster to the sea. This allows other fishermen to know not to land this lobster as it is reproducing. In North Eastern IFCA, there is also a ban on removing or landing the tail, claw or any other detached part of a lobster and a clawless lobster, soft-shelled lobster or a lobster with mutilated pereopods should be returned immediately to the sea.

In the North Eastern IFCA district, regulation requires the mandatory use of at least one unobstructed escape gaps in all pots, both commercial and recreational, within the area stretching from the South Pier of the River Tyne to a line drawn 035 degrees from the base of Steetly Pier, to the North of Hartlepool. The seaward limit of the regulation extends to three nautical miles from coastal points. There are no requirements on escape gaps in the rest of the district.

The UK Fisheries Act came into force in January 2021 and requires the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs). There are no details yet on how and when these will be developed. FMPs have the potential to be very important tools for managing UK fisheries, although data limitations may delay them for some stocks. MCS is keen to see FMPs for all commercially exploited stocks, especially where stocks are depleted, that include:
Targets for fishing pressure and biomass, and additional management when those targets are not being met
Timeframes for stock recovery
Technologies such as Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) to support data collection and improve transparency and accountability
Consideration of wider environmental impacts of the fishery

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

In the UK, brown crab and European lobster are fished together in a mixed fishery with seasonal and regional variation of target species taking place. The key fishing season for European lobster in the UK takes place in summer and autumn. Lobsters are caught in pots, also known as creels, and can be fished individually or as part of a fleet of up to 100 pots, depending on the size of the boat and crew. Pots are portable traps made of wood or steel wire and plastic. The lobster is baited into the initial part (the chamber) and moves into the secondary part (the parlour) where it becomes trapped.

Pot fishing is considered sustainable as it is selective for larger individuals and has minimal impact on the surrounding environment. In European lobster fisheries, there is no legislation or regulation to standardise the type of pot used. They tend to be highly selective as undersized animals can be returned to the sea alive and survival rates for non-target organisms are thought to be high. More than half of the bycatch caught are predicted to survive, although there is little available research to prove this. Measures to further reduce bycatch include the use of escape panels to allow undersize animals and bycatch to escape pots.

Habitat impacts from potting are low but can occur during deployment, soak time or hauling of the pot, impacting the benthic habitat and associated species through contact with the pot or end weight, or by scouring from ropes. Research that has taken place suggests that while some damage does occur, it is unlikely to be significant unless potting intensity is high (defined as approximately 30 pots per 500 square metres). Most damage occurs where traps are set in rocky habitats that are home to corals, sponges, sea whips and other large emergent species. These habitats and species provide nursery areas, refuges from predators and habitat for the settlement of invertebrate spat.

In some circumstances, there can be instances of ghost fishing, when lost fishing gear continues to fish and can entangle a variety of species, but this can be minimised by using appropriate gear and release devices.


Cefas. 2020. Lobster (Homarus gammarus). Cefas Stock Status Report 2019 18 pp. Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/928795/Lobster_assessments_2019..pdf [Accessed on 01.12.2020].

Gall, S.C., Rodwell, L.D., Clark, S., Robbins, T., Attrill, M.J., Holmes, L.A. and Sheehan, E.V. 2020. The impact of potting for crustaceans on temperate rocky reef habitats: Implications for management. Marine Environmental Research, 162, p.105134. Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0141113619308657 [Accessed on 08.12.2020].

Marine Management Organisation. 2018. Statutory guidance: Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS) in UK waters. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/minimum-conservation-reference-sizes-mcrs/minimum-conservation-reference-sizes-mcrs-in-uk-waters#crustaceans [Accessed on 01.12.2020].

Moffat, C., Richardson, H. and Roberts, G. 2020. Natural England marine chalk characterisation project. Natural England Report NERR080. Available at http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5385776319954944#:~:text=Natural%20England%20Marine%20Chalk%20Characterisation%20Project%20(NERR080),England%20on%202%20March%202020%20.&text=Marine%20chalk%20is%20protected%20within,marine%20chalk%20as%20a%20feature [Accessed on 01.12.2020].

North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. 2020. Byelaws Booklet. Available at http://www.ne-ifca.gov.uk/legislation-and-byelaws/byelaw-regulations/ [Accessed on 01.12.2020].

Palomares, M.L.D. and Pauly, D. Editors. 2020. SeaLife Base. Homarus gammarus, European lobster. Available at https://www.sealifebase.ca/summary/Homarus-gammarus.html [Accessed on 01.12.2020].

Seafish. Pots and traps – Brown Crab. Available at https://www.seafish.org/responsible-sourcing/fishing-gear-database/gear/pots-and-traps-brown-crab/ [Accessed on 07.12.2020].

Stevens, B. G. 2020. The ups and downs of traps: environmental impacts, entanglement, mitigation, and the future of trap fishing for crustaceans and fish, ICES Journal of Marine Science. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsaa135 [Accessed on 08.12.2020].

UK Government. 2020. UK sea fisheries annual statistics report 2019. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-sea-fisheries-annual-statistics-report-2019 [Accessed on 07.12.2020].