Lobster, European

Homarus gammarus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pot or creel
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — England
Stock detail — Southeast and South
Picture of Lobster, European

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

The status of the stock in the South East South Coast area is low; Spawning Stock Biomass levels are around the minimum recommended level, below which there is greater risk of reduced future recruitment. Exploitation level is moderate to high and around the maximum recommended level. Fishing effort would need to decrease significantly in order to fish at a more sustainable level. Avoid sourcing animals below the legal minimum landing size, egg-bearing or large animals (females) which contribute to the breeding stock.The number of eggs produced by an egg-bearing female is proportional to her size.


The lobster's appearance is unmistakable: dark blue shell (turns red only when boiled) with pale yellow markings and long red antennae. The claws are of unequal size, with one large crushing claw and a slimmer cutting claw. European lobster can be found from Scandinavia to North Africa, including the Mediterranean and Black Seas, where they occupy solitary shelters in rocky substrates at depths of 0 to 150 m, but usually not deeper than 50 m. They are nocturnal and territorial animals living in holes or crevices. Common total length: 23 to 50 cm (maximum length 100 cm), maximum weight 9kg. In the absence of exploitation the life span is probably 10 years, but they may live 50 years or more. They are opportunistic scavengers, as well as preying on small crustaceans, molluscs and polychaetes. European lobsters are sedentary animals with home ranges varying from 2 to 10 km, although some inshore/offshore and longshore migration may take place. In most areas lobsters do not mature before 5 to 8 years (depending on water temperature), with females maturing at around 7.5-8.0 cm carapace length (CL). Males reach sexual maturity earlier than females. Genetic data suggests that females in the wild mate with a single male. Results from tank experiments demonstrate that individual males can fertilise several females in the same season and this is likely to be the case in the wild. Thus the normal breeding system in the wild is likely to be polygynous. Lobsters mate in late summer when the females moult, but females can store the sperm packet over the winter so eggs are not fertilised and laid until the following summer (around July). Since eggs are carried for 10 to 11 months, females with eggs (termed 'berried') are usually found throughout the year. Moulting occurs in summer, approximately once a year for adults, becoming less frequent in older animals, and mating occurs soon after the female has moulted. There are 3 larval stages, lasting 3-4 weeks before the post-larvae settle on the seabed. Larval distribution depends on local hydrographical conditions and pre-recruit behaviour, and as such is highly variable.

Stock information

Stock Area


Stock information

There is no assessment of lobster stocks by ICES in the North East Atlantic. Recent assessments by CEFAS suggest that the status of the five lobster stocks in English and Welsh coastal waters is mixed. This stock represents one of eight lobster Fishery Units (LFU) that have been defined for England and Wales. These units have been defined based upon knowledge of the distribution of the fisheries, hydrographical conditions and larval distributions and development. The status of the stock of lobster in the South East South Coast area is low; Spawning Stock Biomass levels are around the minimum recommended level, below which there is greater risk of reduced future recruitment. Exploitation level is moderate to high and around the maximum recommended level. Fishing effort would need to decrease significantly in order to fish at FMSY. The status of the stock has not changed since the last assessment in 2010. Fishing mortality (F) is typically higher for males, and has shown no marked trends for the last few years for either sex. F is substantially higher than the target FMSY level for both sexes. Landings have remained steady since 2006, however a decline in effort has occurred. Spawning biomass estimates are significantly lower than MSY biomass levels.


Each lobster Fishery Unit (LFU) encompasses waters covered by international, national and local (Inshore Fishery Conservation Authority) legislation which may be different within each region. UK legislation extends to 12 nautical miles offshore. EC legislation sets a minimum landing size (MLS) of 87mm for lobster in the UK, however, Devon & Severn, Cornwall, and Isles of Scilly IFCAs all enforce an MLS of 90mm. A licensing scheme for shellfish came into force in UK in 2004 restricting the number of shellfish licences available in the UK, and also prohibiting the landing of soft lobsters, parts of lobsters or lobsters with a v-notch in their tail fan. Kent & Essex IFCA byelaws apply between the River Stour and the eastern end of Rye Bay and extend to 6nm out from coastal baselines, which, due to drying sandbanks, extends up to 15 miles offshore in some places; Sussex IFCA byelaws apply between the eastern end of Rye Bay and Hayling Island and extend to 6nm out from coastal baselines; Southern IFCA byelaws apply between the Devon border to the Sussex border and extend to 6nm out from coastal baselines. With the exception of in Sussex, regional byelaws on Southeast & South Coast lobster fisheries prohibit the landing of berried lobsters. In Sussex there is a maximum pot limit enforced.

Capture Information

Most crabs and lobsters are captured in baited pots (also known as traps or creels), but they can also be taken in trawls and static nets such as gill nets or tangle nets. Pots are either top opening (inkwell pot) or side-opening with a retaining chamber (parlour pot). In European waters, pots are fished individually or in strings (fleets) of up to 100 pots, at each end of which is an anchor and buoy. The total number of pots used is determined by boat size, the number of crew and the fishing ground. It is illegal to land lobsters smaller than 8.7cm (7.8cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat) carapace length (90 mm Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, South Wales and Devon), i.e. the length between the back of the eye socket and the most posterior edge of the shell. There are also restrictions on landing 'berried' or egg-carrying females in many areas of England and Wales. V-notching occurs in some areas, which involves the voluntary removal of a V-shaped piece of the telson (tail fan), which takes approximately 2 years to grow out. Landing of V-notched lobsters is prohibited, so the lobster, if recaught, is returned to breed for at least one more year. Lobster pots are a selective method of fishing as undersized, egg-bearing females or immature animals can be returned to the sea alive. In some coastal waters in England, e.g. Kent and Essex IFCA, bylaws require parlour pots to be fitted with escape gaps, thus reducing their efficiency. Turtles, basking sharks and some species of whale (in some areas) can become entangled in ropes used to buoy pots, although this is very rare. Bycatch in pots is minimal and the survival rate of discards is very high, making this an insignificant issue.