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 — Yorkshire Humber
Picture of Lobster, European

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

The status of the stock around the Yorkshire coast is low, females are significantly below the minimum recommended size. The exploitation level is very high, significantly above the maximum recommended level and whist potentially sustainable, will not allow the stock size to increase. 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

Criterion score: 1 info

This stock represents one of six lobster Fishery Units (LFU) that have been defined for England. These units have been defined based upon knowledge of the distribution of the fisheries, hydrographical conditions and larval distributions and development.
Within the European Community framework, the current management objective is to achieve fishing rates likely to deliver Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) from fisheries. For crustacean fisheries scientists cannot directly calculate this rate and so rely upon alternative ways to estimate it.
This assessment uses 35% of virgin Spawner per Recruit (SpR) as the MSY level proxy. This is commonly used around the world to estimate the fishing rate likely to deliver MSY. A second point termed a limit reference point has also been calculated and having fisheries operating beyond this level is considered to carry higher risk to the production of further generations. This value is defined as 15% of virgin SpR.

The status of the stock of lobster in Yorkshire is fairly low, female biomass is below the minimum reference point limit but the male biomass is slightly above. The exploitation level is very high, above the maximum reference point limit but has decreased in recent years. The fishing pressure is particularly high around the Minimum Landing Size. The status of the stock in relation to the reference points is unchanged from the previous assessment in 2014.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

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.

EC legislation sets a minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) of 87mm for lobster in the UK, however, Devon & Severn, Cornwall, and Isles of Scilly IFCAs all enforce one of 90mm.
A licensing scheme for shellfish came into force in UK in 2004, restricting the number of shellfish licenses available in the UK, also prohibiting the landing of soft lobsters, parts of lobsters or lobsters with a v-notch in their tail fan. The landing of berried or egg-carrying females is prohibited by National law in England.
UK legislation extends to 12 nautical miles offshore. Management is organised on two different scales around England. Between 6 and 12 nautical miles, Defra and the MMO are responsible for managing lobster fisheries whereas from the coast out to 6 nautical miles, responsibility lies with the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs). There are 10 IFCAs within England.

North Eastern IFCA byelaws apply between the River Tyne and the River Tees (part of their area) and extend to 6nm out from coastal baselines.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

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, byelaws 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.


Cefas. 2017. Lobster (Homarus gammarus). Cefas Stock Status Report 2017. Cefas, Lowestoft, UK.