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 — Celtic Sea and West of Scotland (Irish Sea East)
Stock detail — 7a, Functional Unit 14
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. 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 Irish Sea East, the fishing pressure on this stock is very low, and the stock is currently in a good 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 Nephrops are generally caught in by trawls using a smaller mesh size (80-99mm), and therefore there is a higher risk of bycatch than in other demersal trawl fisheries which use larger mesh sizes, including whiting and cod. Whiting in the Irish Sea is in a very poor state: current stock size is less than 7% of sustainable levels, and it is recommended that catches of this stock be reduced too zero. Almost all catches are by the Irish Sea Nephrops fisheries. Under these circumstances, it is likely that the Nephrops fisheries in the Irish Sea are contributing to the poor status of whiting, and preventing it from recovering.

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.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The Nephrops stock in the eastern Irish Sea is not overfished and not subject to overfishing.

The harvest rate has been well below FMSY (11%) for more than a decade and has generally declined since 2014. In 2019 it was 3.6%. The stock abundance has been fluctuating above MSY Btrigger (350 million individuals) since 2010. In 2020 it was 496 million individuals - an increase from the level in 2019, which was above MSY BTrigger but the lowest for a decade.

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 871 tonnes and 1053 tonnes. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule and the upper limit is in line with FMSY. This is a 35% increase in advice from the previous year owing to the increase in stock abundance.

There are some uncertainties with this stock assessment, and when it is next benchmarked it has been recommended that MSY BTrigger should be reviewed, as it may be too high. Better understanding of the growth and population structure in this area is needed.

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: 0.5 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. However, the Nephrops stock in the eastern Irish Sea is not overfished and not subject to overfishing. 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 7 (FUs 14-17 and 19-22). Catches in Subarea 7 overall have been less than the TAC in recent years, as there has been a general decline in trawling fishing effort for Norway lobster. Catches in FU 14 have been somewhat below the advised limits in the last 5 years, averaging just 40% of the advice. In 2019, 270t of Nephrops were landed - just 29% of the advised limit of 922t.

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 Irish Sea, MCRS is 20 mm carapace length - lower than the other Celtic Sea FUs (25mm) and below 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). The assumed survival rate of discards of 10% for the Irish Sea is lower than that for other stocks because fishing is largely in spring/summer fisheries, when animals discarded are exposed to warmer temperatures. 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. Unwanted catch in the eastern Irish Sea has averaged around 10% (by weight) of the total in the last 5 years. Observations from the 2016-2018 fishery indicate that discarding above the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) continues.

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 in this fishery are caught by trawling the seabed, almost entirely using small mesh sizes (70-99 mm), which can have high levels of bycatch. While there are some selectivity measures in place to reduce the amount of bycatch in this fishery, significant amounts of whiting are caught in this area. As whiting here is at worryingly low levels, this is of significant concern.

Demersal otter trawls use smaller mesh-sized nets (80-99mm) 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 undersized Nephrops, various whitefish species and flatfish. Nephrops is the main demersal species landed within the Irish Sea mixed fisheries, and other species in the Nephrops fishery constitute a low proportion of the overall landings (less than 10%). However, there is evidence of significant discarding in these fisheries, including cod and whiting. Whiting in the Irish Sea is in a very poor state: current stock size is less than 9% of sustainable levels. Fishing pressure is above sustainable levels. Advice is for zero catch, but this species continues to be caught as bycatch - almost entirely by Nephrops fisheries. Highly selective gears to reduce finfish catch and discards in the Nephrops fishery have been mandatory since 2013, and this does appear to have reduced whiting catches. However, on average from 2016-2018, 89% of whiting catches were by the Nephrops fishery. In 2019, 84% of total whiting catch was by Nephrops-directed bottom trawl fisheries, which equates to over 1,000 tonnes. Most of the catches were below the EU minimum conservation reference size (MCRS). It is forecast that whiting bycatch by Nephrops fisheries in the Irish Sea in 2021 will be 930 tonnes. Under these circumstances, it is likely that the Nephrops fisheries in the Irish Sea are contributing to the poor status of whiting, and preventing it from recovering.

EU Technical Measures regulations require a square mesh panel of 120mm or a sorting grid to reduce bycatch, and bycatches of cod, haddock and saithe should not exceed 20% of the total weight. Parts of the east cost of Ireland and Northern Ireland are closed from 14 February - 30 April each year to protect spawning cod, but trawling is allowed if highly selective gear is being used. There has been a trend for Irish, since 2012, and more recently Northern Irish vessels to switch to multi (quad) rig trawls. Provisional data suggest a 30% increase in Nephrops catch rates and a reduction in fish bycatch of 30% due to the lower headline height. Around 55% of Irish vessels use separator trawls and 45% have opted to use Swedish grids to reduce bycatch. To further increase selectivity in the fishery, the Irish fishery have focused on increasing the codend mesh size, square mesh and other types of escape panels as well as the use of rigid sorting grids. They are conducting gear trials through a Fishery Improvement Project, which aims to improve Nephrops fisheries in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland. There have also been decommissioning schemes to reduce fishing effort.

The southernmost part of this fishery overlaps with West of Walney Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), which was designated to protect sea pens and mud and sand habitats. Sea pens and burrowing megafauna communities are an OSPAR threatened and/or declining habitat in the north east Atlantic, especially within the Irish Sea where this MCZ is located. They have a high sensitivity to penetration or abrasion of the seabed, e.g. from activities such as trawling. However, the highest density of Nephrops, and therefore the majority of fishing effort, is in the north of the fishing ground, outside of this MCZ. Given the important role that Marine Protected Areas, including MCZs, 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).


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