Prawn, Northern prawns, Northern shrimp

Pandalus borealis

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Arctic (Barents Sea)
Stock detail — 1, 2
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Prawn, Northern prawns, Northern shrimp

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020.

The stock is in a healthy state and harvested sustainably. The stock biomass has been close to carrying capacity since the fishery first began in 1970. However, there is no precautionary management plan agreed for northern shrimp in this area, no formally defined harvest control rules (HCRs) and the fishery has not been restricted by an overall Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to date. Catch exceeded scientific advice (2019) for the first time since advice began in 2005. Bycatch of juvenile fish is constrained by the mandatory use of sorting grids and temporary closures. Habitat impacts and catch of protected, endangered or threatened species are rare within this fishery.

The Norway North East Artic cold water prawn, Faroe Islands North East Artic cold water prawn and the Estonia North East Artic cold water prawn and cod fishery, are certified as responsibly managed fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The fisheries are all performing well against MSC conditions of certification, but, a well-defined harvest control rule is yet to be implemented for the stock as a whole.


Pandalus borealis, the northern prawn, or cold-water prawn (also known as pink or deep-water shrimp in North America), are crustaceans belonging to the family Pandalidae. The species has a wide distribution throughout the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans (the Pacific form is generally regarded as a subspecies, Pandalus borealiseous). The species occurs as far south as the North Sea, Massachusetts, Oregon and Japan. Northern shrimp are hermaphroditic. They develop initially as males, then become female after around 3 years, and complete their lives as females. Life span is around 5 years, although possibly up to 8 years in northern latitudes. They spawn in autumn and females carry the eggs until April/May, when they hatch and the pelagic larvae are released. Total adult length is about 15 cm. This species inhabits areas of soft, muddy sediment with a depth range from 20-1300 m. Prawns migrate vertically at night to feed on zooplankton. Northern prawn are heavily predated on by fish and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The stock is in a good state and fishing pressures are within sustainable limits. The stock biomass has been close to carrying capacity and harvested sustainably since the fishery first began in 1970.

The stock is assessed as having full reproductive capacity. Throughout the history of the fishery (1970-2020) estimates of stock biomass (B) have remained above maximum sustainable yield (MSY Btrigger) and fishing mortality (F) has been very low, well below FMSY. In 2020, B was the highest it has been since the fishery began, falling slightly in 2020, yet remaining at peak levels. In 2020, the projected ratio a B:BMSY was 2.37. In 2019, the total catch was estimated to be 78,000 tonnes (~40% increase on the previous year), the ratio of F:FMSY was 0.2.

As the fishery in the Barents Sea developed, catches reached a peak of 128,000 tonnes in 1984, but catches declined from around 80,000 tonnes in 2000 to 20-30,000 tonnes per annum from 2006 to 2014. The decline in landings was due to reductions in fishing effort caused by increased vessel operating costs, primarily high fuel prices, and low market prices and consequent low profitability of the fishery. Since 2006 the total catch in the fishery has been significantly below catch advice recommended by ICES, apart from the total catch recorded in 2019.

Historically, Norway catch accounts for 67-92% of the total catch in the Barents Sea, with EU, Iceland and Greenland accounting for the remainder. Russian catches declined to zero from 2009 to 2012 but have risen steeply since, and accounted for the largest proportion of the total catch in 2019 (33,000 tonnes).

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 150,000 tonnes. The advice has increased 114% from last year (70,000 tonnes), owing to a more optimistic assessment as compared with those of previous years with a large upward revision in the 2017 and 2018 stock biomass estimate. The forecast indicates that the advised catch is sustainable, however, it is above the historical maximum of landings.

An adjustment to the biomass index was made to account for areas not surveyed due to partial survey coverage in both 2018 and 2019. This adjustment changes the index derived from the area covered in the survey by 11.5% in 2018 and 7.9% for 2019, adding some uncertainty in the overall assessment.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

There is no precautionary management plan in place for this fishery, but the stock biomass has been close to carrying capacity and harvested sustainably since the fishery first began in 1970. This fishery is almost entirely certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

There are no formally defined harvest control rules (HCRs). However, the fishery is managed through a series of regulations including effort limitation, technical conservation measures (minimum landing size, mesh size and sorting grid regulations, closed areas, move-on rules) and partial Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits in some areas. The stock has been above Bmsy since the start of the fishery, so it is not clear that management measures have been developed in response to the stock status. As HCRs are not in place, but, the Norwegian northern prawn fishery in the Skagerrak and Norwegian Deep, shows that HCRs are available for the Barents Sea northern prawn fishery, a well-defined HCRs should be in place to determine what management action will be invoked if the stock biomass declines to levels close to MSY Btrigger or Blim, or if fishing mortality increases to levels above Fmsy and/or close to Flim.

Russia sets an annual TAC for the Russian portion of northern prawn fishery in the Barents Sea. Norwegian and other non-Russian vessels fishing in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are subject to a catch quota (6,000 tonnes for Norwegian vessels in 2019). In 2019, Russia’s TAC was set at 28,000 tonnes, a ~140% increase from 2018 (11,700 tonnes) and >3 times the catch of the year prior. Of Russia’s 2019 TAC, 11,500 tonnes were allocated to Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland under intergovernmental agreements. ICES recommends that an overall TAC is implemented to improve management of the fishery.

For the first time, annual catch advice was exceeded by ~11% in 2019, due to increased fishing effort. However, the catch has been on average 61% of advice (2014-2019) and advice more than doubled from the 2019 to 2020 period. Even with significant increases in fishing effort, it has been forecast that catches are unlikely to reach catch advise for 2020, and researchers from the All-Russian Fisheries Research Institutes (VNIRO) have stated that the stability of the stock justifies a significant increase to the previous advised quota of 70,000 tonnes; 2019.

Fishing activity by vessels is monitored rigorously through recording of fishing position by VMS and log book data (some via Electronic Reporting System (ERS)). Vessels within the fishing fleet are subject to inspections at sea carried out by a surveillance programme, Norwegian Coast Guard’s surveillance and other inspectors/control vessels. All landings are monitored by sales organisations. There are plans to roll out the use of ERS across all vessels in the fleet irrespective of vessel size, but this is projected to take place over many years. Norwegian vessels fishing for northern prawn in the Barents Sea also require a licence.

Norwegian and Russian vessels exploit the northern prawn stock across the entire region; Barents Sea and Svalbard Fishery Protection Zone (FPZ). Other non-Norwegian and non-Russian vessels from Estonian, Danish, Lithuanian, and UK are not permitted to fish in the Norwegian and Russian EEZs and so are restricted to fishing within the Svalbard FPZ and in an area of international waters managed by NEAFC to the south east of Svalbard known as the ‘Loop Hole’. Management regulations differ across the various fishing zones and vessels require licences from the relevant Ministries to fish in each of the two areas. Activity of third country fleets operating in the Svalbard zone are also restricted by the number of effective fishing days and the number of vessels by country, set by the Norwegian authorities. Faroe Islands have recently been allowed access to fish in Russian waters, with an annual overall quota of 5,000 tonnes, expanding their range. Although there is no overall limit on fishing effort in the international zone, individual countries may limit the number of licences for vessels to fish in the zone.

Discarding is considered to be negligible.

The minimum landing size of shrimp is 6 cm, the average size of Northern prawn caught by Faroese vessels is 7-8 cm.

The Norway North East Artic cold water prawn, Faroe Islands North East Artic cold water prawn and the Estonia North East Artic cold water prawn and cod fishery, are certified as responsibly managed fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council. The combined MSC certified catch from these fisheries accounted for >75% (42,369 tonnes) of the total landing (55,911 tonnes) in 2018. The fisheries have been certified since 2012-2013 and are certified up until 2023-2024. The fisheries are performing well against all Conditions of Certification (CoC) and performance indicators. The CoC are parallel between the certified fisheries and are on target throughout all certifications. CoC include four considerations; implementation of regulations that limit fishing effort in international waters (Divisions 1a and 1b); a well-defined harvest control rule to be implemented for the stock as a whole; demonstrate that the Unit of Accreditation (UoA) is highly unlikely to reduce structure and function of the Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem (VME) habitats located in the different fishing grounds, to a point where there would be serious or irreversible harm; and to provide evidence that the management measures (designed to ensure that the UoA does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the habitats) are successfully implemented and working effectively.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.

The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.

Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.

The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.

The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Northern prawn is caught by bottom trawling in Norwegian and Russian waters of the Barents Sea.

The northern prawn fishery occurs mainly in the central Barents Sea (the Hopen area) and on the Svalbard Shelf, and catch is taken by Norwegian, Russian, EU, Icelandic, Faroes, and Greenlandic vessels. In recent years the distribution of the stock has moved northwards and eastwards. Consequently, fishing activity has increased further eastwards in the NEAFC managed international waters, in the ‘The Loophole’ zone. This movement may also be driven by recent area closures due to high bycatches of juvenile fish. The fishery is regulated by effort control and fishing activity is constrained by bycatch regulations (mesh size and sorting grids). 100% of catch is taken by demersal otter trawling.

The fleet consists of large trawlers (>21m) operating offshore and small vessels (<21m) operating in the coastal areas. The fleet uses small-mesh trawl gear with a minimum stretched mesh size of 35 mm (MSC UoC use a mesh size of 44mm (although a smaller mesh size is permitted around Svalbard)). All trawls are equipped with mandatory sorting grids, prawns pass through these grids and other species are directed out of the net, this limits the bycatch of juvenile fish. Primarily fishing occurs between depths of 250-400m, although, recently some vessels have been fishing up to 700m in more northerly areas. Offshore vessels can catch up to 300-400 tonnes of northern prawn per trip (which usually last 4-5 weeks). The fishery is limited by extensive use of area closures when small shrimp (<15mm) or small fish (redfish, Greenland halibut, cod and haddock) are present in catches above defined limits. Temporary closing of areas in the Norwegian EEZ and Svalbard FPZ where excessive bycatch of juvenile cod, haddock, Greenland halibut, redfish or shrimp <15 mm is encountered has reduced bycatch.

The northern prawn demersal trawl fishery has some impact upon the seabed. Most vessels operate on soft substrate causing no lasting damage; primarily in areas with soft, muddy sediments and often in the same areas to limit habitat impact. Some vessels operate in areas with harder substrate, and most (MSC UoC) use rock-hopper gear to prevent the ground rope at the base of the net from making contact with the seafloor; reducing the damage significantly to a standard trawl. In both cases, trawl doors make contact with the seabed and directly impact habitat structure. Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem (VME) habitats are particularly vulnerable to trawling, however, in an area as large as the Barents Sea, there may not be sufficient information on the distribution of habitats to fully evaluate the likely impact of northern prawn trawling. New legislation (regulation J-39-2019 implemented 1st July 2019) for the protection of sensitive (VME) habitats was introduced for vessels fishing in the Svalbard Fishery Protection Zone (FPZ) to help to minimise the impact of the northern prawn and other trawl fisheries on VME species. In addition to already existing closed areas (such as cold-water coral reefs) the regulation introduced 10 new closed areas, including areas with identified soft corals, sea lilies and sponge and sea pen aggregations. Two of these areas, nos. 9 and 10, are closed areas for scientific purposes. In addition, the new regulation defines areas where there is currently no fishing for which any proposed new fishery (including the use of gears that have not been used for many years) must first submit an application and then gain approval to obtain a fishing permit. This regulation applies to all Norwegian waters including the Svalbard FPZ, and any such proposed new fishery will not be permitted if there are known areas of VME species.

Demersal otter trawling can catch several unwanted species, yet, there have been no reports of bycatch of endangered, threatened or protected species. This fishery is associated with minimal (~3%) bycatch of non-target species and bycatch is limited to 5% of any single tow, inspections have indicated that the bycatch limit is not being exceeded.

The increasing effort in this northern shrimp fishery, beyond historical maximum landings, may lead to increased bycatch of juvenile fish including redfish, cod, haddock and Greenland halibut in the 5–25 cm size range in the future. Although some vessels are reported to fish below 600m for northern prawn, deep-sea fishing is heavily regulated by NEAFC and Norwegian regulation, and VME habitats are identified and closures exist within the fishery.


FISKERIDIREKTORATET (2019). J-39-2019: (utgatt) Utovelsesforskriften (English: (Discontinued) exercise regulations). Available at [Accessed 03.07.2020]

ICES (2019). Northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) in subareas 1 and 2 (Northeast Arctic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, pra.27.1-2. 8 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.5703. Available at [Accessed 02.07.2020]

MSC (2019). First Surveillance Report for the Estonia North East Arctic cold water prawn and cod fishery. Available for download at [Downloaded 03.07.2020]

MSC (2019). First Surveillance Report for the Faroe Islands North East Arctic cold water prawn fishery. Available for download at [Downloaded 03.07.2020]

MSC (2019). Norway North East Arctic cold water prawn fishery, Surveillance Report No.1. Available for download at [Downloaded 03.07.2020]

Vovchenko, E. (2019). Russian companies make play for coldwater shrimp in Barents Sea. Available at [Accessed 03.07.2020]