Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea (Fladen Ground)
Stock detail — 4a, Functional Unit 7
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.
On the Fladen Ground, the stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing. Management here is not applied at the functional unit level, but catches have been well below scientific advice. In this area Nephrops are generally caught in the mixed demersal fishery, which trawls with a larger mesh size and therefore has fewer concerns for bycatch than the directed Nephrops fishery, which uses smaller mesh sizes. In 2005, a high number of age 0 cod were recorded near this functional unit, and efforts are being made to avoid cod capture. In Scotland this includes improved selectivity measures in gears which target Nephrops and real time closures with a view to reducing unwanted by-catch of cod and other species.
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
Fladen Ground Nephrops are not in an overfished state and are not subject to overfishing.
The stock size has been above MSY Btrigger (2,767 million individuals) in most years since 1992. After a peak of 7 million individuals in 2017, the stock has declined to 4,589 million in 2020, but is still comfortably above MSY BTrigger. The harvest rate declined from 9.9% in 2010 to 1.4% in 2016, and has since increased to 5.6% in 2019 but remains below FMSY (7.5%).
ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the North Sea is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the plan are between 8,430 tonnes and 9,579 tonnes. The entire range is considered precautionary and the upper limit is equivalent to FMSY. This is a 33% decrease on the previous year’s advice (12,550-14,260t) owing to the decrease in abundance, as well as an update to mean weights and discard rates. The advised catch for the Fladen Ground constitutes a large proportion of the total North Sea advised catch, but catches in the Fladen Ground have declined since 2010 and are well below the advice for the area.
In part due to the difficulty of assessing stocks, which may spend significant amounts of time in burrows, a fishery independent survey method using video surveys has been developed, which uses burrow density to estimate stock biomass. Abundance in Fladen Ground is likely to be underestimated, as surveys are not carried out in the north of the functional unit where there are known to be Norway lobster grounds. A recent increase n the size of small Nephrops being caught suggests there was good recruitment of young animals into the stock in 2016 and 2017. Density for the stock as a whole is low, at 0.2 burrows per sq. meter, suggesting that this is a low productivity stock.
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. The Norway lobster stock in Fladen Ground is not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
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’s 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.
The advised catch for the Fladen Ground constitutes a large proportion of the total North Sea advised catch, but catches here have declined since 2010 and are well below the advice. Because management is not FU-specific, there is a risk of other FUs suffering from displacement of unused catch from Fladen Ground. Since 2011 catch advice has been between 6,000t and 16,000t, while landings have ranged from 1,500t to 7,000t - although in 2019 catches reached 9,000 tonnes, double the previous year and the highest since 2010, but still below the recommended limit. Catch advice for 2021 is between 8,430 tonnes and 9,579 tonnes, in line with the North Sea MAP ranges. ICES considers the entire range to be precautionary. This is a 33% decrease on the previous year’s advice (12,550-14,260t) owing to the decrease in abundance, as well as an update to mean weights and discard rates.
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. In 2019, no Nephrops were recorded as below the minimum size (BMS) in the Fladen Grounds. This is consistent with the discard rates estimated for this FU which have been low.
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 Scottish fleet accounts for most of the landings from the Fladen Ground. The fishery is seasonal and the fleet nomadic, moving between Fladen, Moray Firth, Firth of Forth, Devil’s Hole, Farn Deeps and west coast of Scotland according to the time of the year and catch rates. In this FU, the HSG requirement on small mesh sizes resulted in the fleet changing gear to larger mesh sizes (100mm or more) to continue targeting Nephrops and whitefish.
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 Fladen Ground, Nephrops are generally caught in the mixed demersal fishery, where the nets have a larger mesh size (100mm+) than targeted Nephrops trawls (70-99mm). There may be a high number of juvenile cod in this area, and efforts are being made to avoid cod capture. In Scotland this includes improved selectivity measures in gears which target Nephrops and real time closures with a view to reducing unwanted by-catch of cod and other species.
This species is caught as part of a mixed demersal fishery, and catches include Nephrops, haddock, whiting, cod, monkfish and megrim. In the North Sea, megrim is not overfished or subject to overfishing. Haddock is not overfished, but is subject to overfishing. Whiting is both overfished and subject to overfishing, while the monkfish population is decreasing, and fishing pressure is increasing. 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 2005, a high number of age 0 cod were recorded near this FU and efforts are being made to avoid cod capture.
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 study, 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”. The Fladen Ground is located towards the centre of the Northern North Sea off the east coast of Scotland, and is an extensive area of mud and muddy sand. A large scale seasonal gyre develops in the late spring over a dome of colder water. Numerous fish species occur in in the same area as Nephrops with demersal fish more prevalent in the northern area. In the softest areas of mud, prawns (Pandalus borealis) are also found.
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
ReferencesBENTHIS. 2015. Deliverable 2.3: Benthic impact of fisheries in European waters: the distribution and intensity of bottom trawling. Available at: http://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00310/42138/54476.pdf [Accessed on 19.11.2020].
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.a, Functional Unit 7 (northern North Sea, Fladen Ground). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, nep.fu.7. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5841 [Accessed on 20.11.2020].
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.