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 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

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. Landings by UK vessels have increased substantially in recent years, from 290 tonnes in 2001 to about 1,100 tonnes with a value of over 11.8 million in 2012. In recent years, the majority of lobster landings have come from the South East, East Coast, Orkney, Hebrides, and South Minch assessment units. 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. Overall, assessments of the twelve assessment units for the period 2009-2012 show that, most lobster assessment units in Scotland are fished close to or above the FMSY proxy. Scientific advice is that a higher yield and biomass per recruit in the long term could potentially be obtained in all assessment units by reducing the level of fishing mortality (effort). Lobsters in all the assessed areas were fished above the FMSY proxy to some extent, particularly males. Fishing mortality was estimated to be above FMSY for both males and females in Clyde, South Minch, East Coast and South East.


The lobster fishery is not subject to EU TAC regulations or national quotas although there are measures in place to restrict the fishing effort (kW days) of all vessels = 15 m (including creel boats) in ICES Subarea VI (Council Regulation ( EC) No 1415/2004). 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 landing lobsters are required to have a licence with a shellfish entitlement. Vessels without this entitlement are only allowed to land five lobsters per day. The main regulatory mechanism is a minimum landing size of 87 mm CL in all areas except Shetland (90 mm CL, under the Shetland Regulating Order). There is also a maximum landing size of 155 mm CL for females. The number of eggs produced by an egg-bearing female is proportional to her size. There are however no restrictions on the number of creels deployed per boat.

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. 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.


http://www.Scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/marine-environment/Species/fish/TAC/EuropeanLobsterManagement; http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/09/5642/27