Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Nephrops norvegicus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — West Scotland (North Minch)
Stock detail — 6a, Functional Unit 11
CertificationFIP Stage 3
Picture of Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

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. Where the fishery overlaps with a Marine Protected Area that has been designated to protect seabed features, this concern is increased. 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.

In North Minch, the stock is not subject to overfishing, and is not in an overfished state. Management here is not applied at the functional unit level, but catches have been below the scientific advice in recent years. In this area most Nephrops (80%) are by trawls using a smaller mesh size (80-99mm), which has a higher risk of bycatch than creeling, especially whiting and cod. Whiting off the west of Scotland is in a poor state, below Blim, and the most recent assessment indicates that it shows no signs of rebuilding. Most catches of this whiting stock are by the Nephrops trawl fishery. West of Scotland cod is also bycatch in west of Scotland Nephrops trawl fisheries, and is in a very depleted state, at just 10% of sustainable levels. There are concerns that compliance with the Landing Obligation is poor in a number of fisheries around the UK, including the West of Scotland Nephrops fisheries. Given the high impact of the bycatch of cod and whiting in this area, it is essential that more is done to improve selectivity of fishing gear, enforce compliance with regulations, and monitor catches. MCS considers it vital that Remote Electronic Monitoring is rolled out on all fleets.

Fishing is controlled within the Wester Ross MPA, which overlaps with a small part of the Nephrops grounds.

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. 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).

A credible Fishery Improvement Project is underway to address some of the key concerns relating to management, bycatch and habitat impacts in this fishery.

Biology

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.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The Nephrops stock in North Minch is not subject to overfishing and is not in an overfished state.

The harvest rate has fluctuated around FMSY (10.8%) since 1998, and has been below FMSY since 2013. In 2019 it was 7.1% The stock abundance has been above MSY Btrigger (540 million individuals) since 1998 and in 2020 it was 1,439 million individuals.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for Western waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 3,075 tonnes and 3,953 tonnes. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule and the upper limit is in line with FMSY. This is an 18% increase on the previous year’s advice, likely owing to higher abundance.

Since 1994, the underwater TV survey (UWTV) has provided abundance estimates for FU11 with precision, although it doesn’t cover Nephrops grounds in the inshore waters and sea lochs, which are typically fished by smaller vessels. The total area of these grounds is estimated to be less than 5% of the total stock areas and therefore this is not considered to impact the quality of the assessment.

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.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 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 not currently subject to overfishing, nor is it in an overfished state. Catches have been below the advice in recent years.

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. This advice is not being followed.

This stock is covered by the EU Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), covering eighteen FUs, including 11-17 and 19-22. 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. However, a single TAC covers the whole of ICES Subarea 6 (FUs 11-13). Catches in Subarea 6 overall have been less than the TAC in recent years, as there has been a general decline in trawling fishing effort for Norway lobster. Over the past 5 years, catches in FU11 have been below the advice, averaging 87% of recommended limits. In 2018, there was a large reduction in landings and effort in all three functional units on the west coast. This reduction was partly explained by the migration of the west coast fleet to the east coast to take advantage of improved Nephrops fishing opportunities in the northern North Sea. Anecdotal information from the fishing industry suggests that an additional factor contributing to the migration of the fishing fleet was an issue with foreign crew being unable to work in the inshore grounds of the west coast therefore moved to the offshore grounds of the east coast.

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 Celtic Seas, MCRS is 25 mm carapace length - above the size of maturity of female Nephrops (23mm). There are some exemptions, meaning a certain amount of Nephrops can still be discarded at sea (up to 5% de minimis in some fisheries; full exemptions where there is high survivability e.g. in pots or larger-meshed nets). Scottish discard survival experiments indicate that the trawl discard survival may be greater than 50%. 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. Observations from the 2016-2018 fishery indicate that some discarding above the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) continues. Over the past 3 years, discards have averaged 4% of the total catch by weight, and 8.6% by number. In 2018 there were no reports of Nephrops landed below MCRS in accordance with the EU landing obligation.

Scotland has established a network of regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (rIFGs), non-statutory bodies that aim to improve the management of Scotland’s inshore fisheries out to six nautical miles, and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments. Although no IFG proposals specific to the management of Nephrops fisheries have yet been adopted, some of the IFG management plans for the Scottish West Coast include spatial management of Nephrops fisheries and the introduction of creel limits. Overall effort by the creel fleet in terms of creel numbers is not known, and measures to control numbers are not in place. There is a need to ensure that the combined effort from all forms of fishing is taken into account when managing this stock.

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

Capture Information

Criterion score: 1 info

Nephrops live in burrows in the seabed. Therefore, to capture Nephrops, fishing vessels use fishing gear near or on the seabed such as demersal trawls and creels. In 2018, around 80% of Nephrops catches were by the Nephrops trawl fishery (with mesh size of 70-99mm), which can have high levels of bycatch. This fishery catches West of Scotland cod and whiting, both of which are highly depleted. Nephrops fishing in this area could be contributing to the continuing poor state of these stocks, especially as it catches juveniles.

Demersal otter trawls use smaller mesh-sized nets to catch Nephrops than other whitefish trawlers (100mm +) and therefore, it can be an unselective fishing gear, catching and discarding a relatively high amount of Nephrops and various whitefish and flatfish species, e.g. cod, haddock, whiting and plaice. In particular, significant amounts of cod and the majority of whiting are caught by Nephrops fisheries in the west of Scotland. West of Scotland whiting remains in a very overfished state, some way below Blim, and the most recent assessment indicates that it shows no signs of rebuilding. The increase in mesh size from 100 mm to 120 mm, established under the emergency measures in 2010, and the introduction of large square mesh panels in the Nephrops fishery, may have reduced fishing mortality. The west of Scotland cod stock is in a seriously depleted state, at just 10% of safe levels, and is still being subjected to overfishing - more from the whitefish fishery than the Nephrops fishery. Cod bycatch has reduced in these fisheries, because of measures such as Real Time Closures and square mesh panels, however the Nephrops fleet is still responsible for 45% of cod discards in this area. Further mitigation measures are expected to improve bycatch and discard impacts in the fishery through the GITAG (Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group). Although the minimum size of the mesh in the nets may be small, some vessels have taken part in fishing gear trials where they use specially-designed nets to reduce their impact on bycatch and the seabed where they fish. Vessels which use these more selective nets can be rewarded by being given more quota. In Scotland, these trials include the Nephrops grid trials, for example, the Faithlie cod avoidance panel is classified as a highly selective gear.

A report by the University of Glasgow showed that elasmobranchs form around 10% of the Nephrops catch, these can include Endangered Threatened and Protected species such as spurdog. There are no data about their discards or survival rates.

In February 2016, phase 1 of the fisheries management measures for inshore MPAs in Scottish waters came into force. Although not specific to the management of the Nephrops fishery, they influence spatial patterns of fishing for Nephrops where controls on the two main gear types, demersal trawls and creels are implemented on Nephrops habitat. Within the North Minch functional unit, two MPAs are covered by fisheries management measures: the Wester Ross NCMPA, where fishing activity is banned for demersal gears for vessels over 500 kW in power and banned in certain areas for vessels below 500 kW, and the Loch Laxford SAC, where demersal trawling is banned. These MPAs cover a small amount of the fishing ground for Nephrops. Given the important role that Marine Protected Areas (including NCMPAs and SACs) 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).

References

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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].

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