Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea (Firth of Forth)
Stock detail — 4b, Functional Unit 8
Certification — FIP Stage 3
Updated: November 2020
The small Norway lobster is usually caught by trawling, often using nets with small mesh sizes, and therefore bycatch of other species and habitat impacts on the seabed are among the biggest concerns in these fisheries. In addition, management generally isn’t following scientific advice - with measures being across a wide area, rather than on a stock-by-stock basis, allowing catches to be above recommended levels in some places.
The Firth of Forth Nephrops stock is at a high level, and fishing pressure is fluctuating around sustainable levels. However, management here is not applied at the functional unit level. While 2019 catch is below the recommended limit, from 2007-2018 catch exceeded the advice in every year except 2011. Average catches over the last 5 years have been 5% higher than the recommended limits. There is a relatively high level of discarding in this area, and more selectivity is needed to reduce catches of undersize Nephrops. The directed Nephrops fishery (mainly using 80mm mesh) accounts for most of the catches, while the mixed Nephrops/demersal fishery (using larger mesh sizes) accounts for a small amount. Recruits of numerous demersal fish species occasionally aggregate in the area and small pelagics (sprat and juvenile herring) are seasonally abundant. Important seabird colonies occur in the area, and the ‘Wee Bankie’ gravel area, important for sandeels is located further offshore to the north and east of the Firth. The small mesh of this fishery and importance for other species make bycatch and the need for improved selectivity of particular concern here.
You can increase the sustainability of the scampi you eat by choosing Nephrops caught using creels. If sourcing trawl-caught Nephrops, ask for those caught in nets with separator grids and larger meshes (e.g. SELTRA, incline mesh panel), which reduce the risk to bycatch species and discards.
A credible Fishery Improvement Project is underway to address some of the key concerns relating to management, bycatch and habitat impacts in this fishery.
Norway Lobster (also known as langoustine or scampi) live in burrows on the seabed. They are limited to a muddy habitat and require sediment with a silt and clay content to excavate burrows. Their distribution therefore is determined by the availability of suitable habitat. They occur over a wide area in the North East Atlantic, from Iceland to North Africa and into the Mediterranean, and constitute a valuable fishery for many countries. Males grow relatively quickly to around 6 cm, but seldom exceed 10 years old. Females grow more slowly and can reach 20 years old. Females mature at about 3 years. In the autumn they lay eggs which remain attached to the tail for 9 months (known as being “berried”). During this time the berried females rarely emerge from their burrows and therefore do not commonly appear in trawl catches, although they may be caught using baited creels. This habit of remaining in their burrows has probably afforded their populations some resilience to fishing pressure. Egg hatching occurs in the spring, and females emerge in spring/summer to moult and mate.
Criterion score: 0 info
The Firth of Forth Nephrops stock is at a high level, and fishing pressure is fluctuating around sustainable levels.
This stock has proxies for MSY-based reference points, allowing for MCS to use Route 1 stock scoring for this rating.
The stock size in 2020 was 1,119 million individuals - the highest on record. The stock has been above MSY Btrigger (292 million individuals) since 1993. The harvest rate has fluctuated around FMSY (16.3%) since 2003, and in 2019 was above FMSY, at 18.3%. This increase in Harvest Rate for 2019 compared to the 2018 figure (12.9%) is related to the decline in abundance from 2018 (1,025 million individuals) to 2019 (865 million).
ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the North Sea is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the plan are between 2,556 tonnes and 3,931 tonnes. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule, and the upper limit is equivalent to fishing at MSY. This advice is a 25% increase on the previous year owing to the increase in abundance in 2020.
A 2011 study on Nephrops in the Clyde found a high prevalence of plastics and suggested that this could have implications for the health of the stock - this may have relevance for other Nephrops stocks. Some of the plastics were sourced to fishing waste. Studies have shown that the effects of climate change - warmer waters, reduced oxygen levels, higher ocean acidity, and higher levels of heavy metals - can negatively impact Nephrops’ larval development and make adults more susceptible to disease. Lower oxygen levels can also cause Nephrops to leave their burrows, making them easier to catch.
Criterion score: 0.75 info
There are multiple management measures and a variety of enforcement employed in the fishery, though the quota is not applied at the functional unit level and therefore, the stock is at risk of overfishing. The stock is currently at a high level, and fishing pressure is fluctuating around sustainable limits, although it was just above sustainable levels in 2019. Average catches over the last 5 years have been 5% higher than the recommended limits. There is a relatively high level of discarding in this area, and more selectivity is needed to reduce catches of undersize Nephrops.
Nephrops stock assessments are conducted by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Stock assessments are produced for 33 areas across the Northeast Atlantic, called functional units. However, management is applied to a separate 18 areas, called management units. These management units broadly overlap with the functional units, but not very effectively. Vessels are free to move between grounds, allowing effort to develop on some grounds in a largely uncontrolled way and result in overfishing. Therefore, scientists have repeatedly advised over the years that management should be implemented at the functional unit level, to better protect the Nephrops. This should provide the controls to ensure that catch opportunities and effort are compatible and in line with the scale of the resources in each of the stocks: functional unit TAC management is only one way of managing the fisheries and other approaches may also deliver the required safeguards. However, this advice is not being followed.
This stock is covered by the EU North Sea Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), covering eleven FUs: 3-10 and 32-34. Rather than holding strictly to MSY-based reference points, the MAP includes upper and lower ranges for fishing pressure (F). The ranges for F are set at the Functional Unit level and FU-specific management measures can be introduced if individual Nephrops functional units are found to be below the sustainable abundance levels.
Since 2007, catch has exceeded advice every year except 2011 and 2019. From 2015-2019, the total catch has been on average 6% higher than the advised limits. In 2018 it was 25% above the recommended limit, but in 2019 it was 13% below. The catch in 2019 of 2,684 tonnes was the second highest on record, and is above the ten year average (2,155 tonnes). Landings per Unit of Effort in this fishery rose in the early 2000s, stabilised at a relatively high level from 2006 to 2016 and increased again in recent years, reaching the highest level on record in 2018. Although the persistently high estimated harvest rates do not appear to have adversely affected the stock, they are estimated to be equivalent to fishing at a rate greater than FMSY and therefore ICES advises that it would be unwise to allow effort to increase in this FU.
The EU Landings Obligation (LO) came into force for Nephrops fisheries in the 80-99 mm trawl fisheries in 2016, and in 2019 it was extended to all species subject to catch limits. This means that individuals that are below the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS), as well as adults that are unwanted (e.g. over-quota), must be landed rather than discarded at sea. For Nephrops in the North Sea, MCRS is 25 mm carapace length (32mm for Denmark, Sweden and Norway). There are some exemptions, meaning a certain amount of Nephrops can still be discarded at sea (up to 6% de minimis in some fisheries; full exemptions where there is high survivability e.g. in pots or larger-meshed nets). The LO should increase both the number of small (below-MCRS) Nephrops and unwanted adults being landed, but throughout EU waters compliance with this regulation is generally poor and there is often no change in landings. Quarterly discard sampling has been conducted on the Scottish Nephrops trawler fleet since 1990. Discard rates in the Firth of Forth vary between 16% and 55% of the catch by number (2010–2019 average is 23%); in 2019 it was 24.9%. No landings of small Nephrops were reported for this area in 2019, even though catches of small Nephrops are common here, owing to the small mesh size of the nets (80-95mm) and more small individuals in the population due to slower growth. Observations indicate that discarding of unwanted adults continues, and has not changed markedly. These discard rates in the Firth of Forth are relatively high compared to other Functional Units and there is a need to reduce these and to improve the exploitation pattern.
The UK is the main producer of Norway lobster from the North Sea (74% of landings by weight in 2017). There are a series of technical measures for fishing gear for this fishery, set by the UK and the EU, relating to: mesh size, distance from the cod line, panel length (depending on engine power), and mesh construction. UK legislation also prohibits twin or multiple rig trawling with a diamond cod end mesh smaller than 100 mm in the North Sea south of 57.30 degrees N. Recent measures to reduce whitefish bycatch (e.g. cod) required vessels in the northern North Sea using mesh size of below 100mm to employ highly selective gears (HSG), e.g. Gamrie Bay Trawl or Faithlie Cod Avoidance Panel. In 2012 most vessels operating in the northern North Sea and the Farn Deeps fished exclusively with specified highly selective gears (reducing cod catches by 60% by weight) or had installed 200 mm square mesh panels.
The Nephrops fishery in the Firth of Forth is dominated by Scottish vessels, mostly under 12m in length. Improved selectivity is needed in this area owing to comparatively high discard rates and the need to avoid bycatch.
Project UK is implementing Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) on eight UK fisheries that have been selected for their importance to the UK market. This includes trawl- and creel-caught Nephrops in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and West of Scotland (functional units 5-15 and 34). Aims include the development of functional-unit-based management (including Harvest Control Rules), improving the assessments of the various Nephrops stocks, better understanding and mitigation of the impact of the fishery on other species and habitats, improving compliance with the Landing Obligation, and better monitoring of the fishery. These improvements could go a long way to improving the sustainability of these fisheries. The FIP is in stage 3, indicating that implementation of the workplan has begun. It should be complete and ready to undergo assessment for Marine Stewardship Council certification in April 2024. It is transparently run, with meeting minutes and action plans being made available online. The FIP is currently on target, according to the latest Action Plan (April 2020). However, Functional-Unit-specific catch limits and days at sea limits have been ruled out as being unworkable for the industry. It remains to be seen if effective alternative measures can be implemented to ensure that stocks won’t be overexploited. Suggested measures include minimum landing sizes, restricting what fishing gear can be used, restricting vessel power or length, and closing parts of the functional units. Research is underway into the impact of the fishery on habitats and Endangered, Threatened and Protected species. Stock status for each FU is reviewed against MSC certification benchmarks annually. MCS considers this FIP to be credible.
Both the EU and UK have fishery management measures in place, which can include catch limits, targets for population sizes and fishing mortality, and controls on what fishing gear can be used and where. In the EU, compliance with regulations has been variable, and there are ongoing challenges with implementing some of them. There was a target for fishing to be at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020, but this was not achieved. The Landing Obligation (LO), an EU law that the UK has kept after Brexit, requires all fish and shellfish to be landed, even if they are unwanted (over-quota or below minimum size). It aims to promote more selective fishing methods, reduce bycatch, and improve recording of everything that is caught, not just what is wanted. Compliance with the LO is generally poor and actual levels of discards are difficult to quantify using the current fisheries observer programme.
In the UK, it is too early to tell how effective management is, as the Fisheries Act only came into force in January 2021. The Act requires the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) (replacing EU Multi-Annual Plans) but 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
Criterion score: 0.5 info
In the Firth of Forth, most Nephrops are caught by trawls using small mesh (mainly 80mm) - this accounted for 98% of catches in 2019. The mixed Nephrops/demersal fishery (using larger mesh sizes) accounts for most of the remainder. Recruits of numerous demersal fish species occasionally aggregate in the area, and small pelagics (sprat and juvenile herring) are seasonally abundant. Important seabird colonies also occur in the area, and the ‘Wee Bankie’ gravel area, important for sandeels is located further offshore to the north and east of the Firth. The small mesh of this fishery and importance for other species make bycatch and the need for improved selectivity of particular concern here.
In the Firth of Forth, Nephrops are the main species being caught, but bycatch can include cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, plaice and sole. In the North Sea, haddock and plaice are in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable levels. Saithe is in a good state, but fishing pressure is too high. Whiting is slightly below sustainable levels, and fishing pressure is too high. Sole is fluctuating around its lowest safe biological level, with fishing pressure at high levels. North Sea cod is in a very poor state, and fishing pressure is too high. Recent measures to reduce whitefish bycatch (e.g. cod) required vessels in the northern North Sea using mesh size of below 100mm to employ highly selective gears (HSG), e.g. Gamrie Bay Trawl or Faithlie Cod Avoidance Panel. In 2012 most vessels operating in the northern North Sea and the Farn Deeps fished exclusively with specified highly selective gears (reducing cod catches by 60% by weight) or had installed 200 mm square mesh panels. In 2018, Nephrops trawls accounted for approximately 7% of all North Sea cod catches.
Endangered, threatened and protected species caught in the catch can include some skates, rays and sharks. These species are relatively hardy, and can survive when they are discarded, but their survival rates largely depend on how they were caught and handled. Mortality rates in otter trawls are shown to vary between 10-65%, depending on fishing and handling methods. Those vessels which employ codes of conduct on skate and ray handling and/or reduce the risk of their capture, will improve their survival rates, though many of these methods aren’t implemented over whole functional unit or regional levels.
Nephrops are mainly found in soft mud habitats, which are also associated other burrowing animals like other crustaceans, bivalves (including the long-lived and slow-growing ocean quahog), and polychaete worms. They are also associated with emergent epifauna such as soft corals and sea pens, which are vulnerable to interactions with bottom-towed fishing gear. Disturbance from trawl gear on the seabed, especially over long periods of time, is likely to affect the structure, species composition, and biodiversity of the burrowed mud community. According to a 2015 report, in the Northern North Sea and Skagerrak, there is a “high sub-surface footprint”, which is “almost exclusively” caused by “high fishing intensities with bottom trawls targeting Nephrops and mixed fish which have a significant sub-surface impact”.
There are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in this Functional Unit, some of which are designated to protect seabed features from damaging activities. This Nephrops fishery overlaps with parts of these MPAs, but the proportion of the catch coming from these areas is expected to be relatively low in relation to the unit of assessment (i.e. less than 20% of the catch), and so these impacts have not been assessed within the scale of this rating. Given the important role that MPAs have in recovering the health and function of our seas, MCS encourages the supply chain to identify if their specific sources are being caught from within MPAs. If sources are suspected of coming from within designated and managed MPAs, MCS advises businesses to: establish if the fishing activity is operating legally inside a designated and managed MPA; and to request evidence from the fishery or managing authority to demonstrate that the activity is not damaging to protected features or a threat to the conservation objectives of the site(s).
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.Abalone
Clam, Manila (Farmed)
Crab, brown or edible
Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Mussel, Chilean (Farmed)
Mussel, mussels (Farmed)
Oyster, Native, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Caught at sea)
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Farmed)
Prawn, King (whiteleg), prawns
Prawn, Northern prawns, Northern shrimp
Prawn, Tiger prawns (Farmed)
Scallop, King, scallops
Scallop, Queen, scallops
Squid, Japanese flying
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CruCSChange, 2015. The crustacean chemosensory system: Consequences of climate and environmental change. CruCSChange: EU Grant agreement ID: 331296. Available at https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/182940-impact-of-environmental-change-on-norway-lobster [Accessed on 19.11.2020].
Drewery, J., Edridge, A., Kinghorn, M., Kynoch, R.J., Mair, J., OaNeill, F. G and K Summerbell. Effects of Codend Mesh Size and Twine Number on Nephrops Selectivity. Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Vol 6 No 3. ISSN: 2043-7722. Aberdeen, UK.
Enever R., T.L. Catchpole T.L., Ellis. J.R., Grant A. The survival of skates (Rajidae) caught by demersal trawlers fishing in UK waters. Fisheries Research 97 (2009) 72-76
EU, 2018. Regulation 2018/973 establishing a multiannual plan for demersal stocks in the North Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32018R0973 [Accessed on 17.11.2020].
Hinz, H., Prieto, V., and Kaiser, M. J., 2009. Trawl disturbance on benthic communities: chronic effects and experimental predictions. Ecological Applications: A Publication of the Ecological Society of America, 19(3), 761-73. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19425437 [Accessed 23.09.2019].
ICES. 2020. Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) in Division 4.b, Functional Unit 8 (central North Sea, Firth of Forth). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, nep.fu.8. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5842 [Accessed on 23.11.2020].
ICES. 2020. Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK). ICES Scientific Reports, 2:61. 1140 pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6092 [Accessed on 17.11.2020].
Kingma, I. and Walker, P. Rays of Hope - Discard survival in North Sea Skates and Rays. ICES CM 2014/O:09. Available at: http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/CM%20Doccuments/CM-2014/Theme%20Session%20O%20contributions/O0914.pdf
Mandelman J.W., Cicia, A.M., Ingram Jr, G.W. Driggers III, W.B., Coutreb, K.M. and Sulikowskib, J.A. Short-term post-release mortality of skates (family Rajidae) discarded in a western North Atlantic commercial otter trawl fishery. Fisheries Research 83 (2007) 238-245.
Murray and Cowie, 2011. Plastic contamination in the decapod crustacean Nephrops norvegicus (Linnaeus, 1758). Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62: 6, pp.1207-1217. Available at doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.03.032 [Accessed on 19.11.2020].
Palomares, M.L.D. and Pauly, D. (Editors), 2019. SeaLifeBase. Nephrops norvegicus: Norway lobster. Available at https://www.sealifebase.ca/summary/Nephrops-norvegicus.html [Accessed on 17.11.2020].
Russell, J. and Mardle, S. 2017. Analysis of Nephrops industry in Scotland. Final Report. Available at: http://www.sff.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/AS-nephrops-FINAL-report-171017-ISSUED.pdf
Williams, C., and Carpenter, G. 2016. NEF working paper: The Scottish Nephrops fishery: Applying social, economic, and environmental criteria.
Wood, H., Eriksson, S., Nordborg, M., and Styf, H., 2015. The effect of environmental stressors on the early development of the Norway lobster Nephrops norvegicus (L.). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 473. pp. 35-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2015.08.009.