Lobster, European

Homarus gammarus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pot or creel
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Scotland
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Lobster, European

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Lobster is subject to a high level of exploitation in Scotland. Although creel fishing is a low impact method of fishing, and fishing effort is managed, the number of creels or pots used is not regulated and subsequently fishing effort is too high. Avoid sourcing berried or egg-bearing females and animals below or above the legal minimum landing sizes.


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

The earliest records of lobster fishing in Scotland date back to the 12th century when lobster was caught by hand using ‘crooks’ and hoop nets. With the introduction of baited traps (creels), exploitation on a more commercial basis developed, and today there are important creel fisheries for the European lobster in many areas around the Scottish coast.
Lobster landings have increased substantially over the last 15 years to about 1,000 tonnes in 2015. The majority of landings of lobster in Scotland have been from the Hebrides, Orkney, South Minch, with the South East and East Coast areas becoming increasingly important in more recent years.
Length Cohort Analysis (LCA) is the method used for assessing lobster stocks. It uses official landings and length frequency data collected as part of the Marine Scotland Science market sampling programme. There are 12 assessment units for lobster in Scotland.
Fishing mortality was estimated to be above FMSY for both males and females in the Clyde, East Coast, South East, Shetland and South Minch areas. In the Hebrides, Orkney and Papa, the fishing mortality estimated for females was at or below FMSY while males were fished above FMSY. No assessments were performed for the Mallaig, North Coast, Sule and Ullapool areas as the sampling data collected were considered insufficient to run LCAs.
The results of assessments for the period 2013-15 indicated that in the majority of the assessment areas, lobster was fished close to or above FMSY. To improve the long-term productivity of the fishery a reduction in the level of fishing mortality (effort) is recommended.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

Lobster fisheries are not subject to EU TAC regulations or national quotas although there are measures in place to restrict the fishing effort. 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.
In Scotland, vessels fishing for lobster must have a licence with a shellfish entitlement. The quantities that are permitted to be landed are not however restricted. Neither is there any restriction on the number of creels deployed. Licensed fishing vessels without this entitlement are only allowed to land five lobsters per day. Owners of vessels with a shellfish entitlement are required to record their landings in a form (FISH1) or in an EU logbook, depending on the length of the vessel, and submit the information to a Fishery Office.
The main regulatory mechanism is a minimum landing size of 87 mm carapace length (CL) in all areas of Scotland except Shetland and Hebrides, where the minimum landing size is 90 mm CL. There is also a maximum landing size for females of 155 mm CL in Orkney and Shetland (145 mm in rest of Scotland). Although there is a prohibition on the landing of berried or egg-bearing velvet crab, no such restriction exists for female European lobster. The reduction in maximum landing size is however designed to protect larger breeding females as the number of eggs produced by an egg-bearing female is proportional to her size. A national prohibition on the landing of berried lobster in England was introduced in 2017.

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. 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.


Mesquita, C., Miethe, T., Dobby, H., and McLay, A. 2017. Crab and Lobster Fisheries in Scotland: Results of Stock Assessments 2013-2015. Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Vol 8 No 14. http://data.marine.gov.scot/sites/default/files//SMFS%200814.pdf(Accessed 13 November 2017)
The Specified Crustaceans (Prohibition on Landing, Sale and Carriage) (Scotland) Order 2017 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2017/455/contents/made (Accessed 28 February 2018).