Lobster, European

Homarus gammarus

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

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Recent assessment of the stocks suggest that lobster stocks are being fished at a rate either around or above the Fmsy target, and with spawning stock biomass estimates at or below the recommended level. In fully exploited fisheries the risk of recruitment overfishing is high; the mature adult population being depleted to a level where it no longer has the capacity to replenish itself. 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: 0.75 info

Stock assessments in England and Wales are carried out by Cefas. For these assessments scientists advise an optimum exploitation rate (fishing mortality rate or FMSY) that will produce a spawning stock biomass of 35% of the virgin stock. This is considered to correspond to Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY). To avoid risk of depletion the stock should not be fished at a rate (Fishing mortality limit or Flimit) which would result in a stock below 15% of its virgin stock biomass.

Recent assessment of the stocks suggest that lobster stocks are being fished at a rate either around or above the Fmsy target, and with spawning stock biomass estimates at or below the recommended level. In fully exploited fisheries the risk of recruitment overfishing is high; the mature adult population being depleted to a level where it no longer has the capacity to replenish itself.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

In April 2010 Welsh Government assumed full responsibility for inshore fisheries management in Wales. Prior to this the inshore fisheries were regulated by two separate Sea Fisheries Committees (SFC) established under the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966, each with their own geographically relevant set of byelaws. Crustacean fisheries are the mainstay of the Welsh fishing industry, with 3.8 million pounds worth of crustaceans landed into Wales in 2012. A review of all fisheries legislation in Wales commenced in January 2012 with the remit to review all items to ensure they are fit for purpose. Given the importance of the crustacean fishery, this was one of the first fisheries to be considered, and a review of their management provisions is currently taking place.

Lobster stocks are mostly coastal, with restricted movements once they have settled on the seabed, and can be assessed and managed on a national basis. Fisheries in Wales are managed by various sectors of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, who decide upon Sea Fisheries Legislation, or ‘by-laws’, which are then implemented by the Welsh Government. In Wales, unlike the rest of the UK, fisheries regulations are able to extend out to the 12 mile limit which allows for any management measures adopted to be more effective.

Lobster stocks are managed primarily through fishing effort limitation and technical conservation measures. 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. The South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee was the first managing body to introduce the statutory protection of v-notched lobsters in 1996. Other technical measures for management of lobster in Wales is the introduction of a Minimum Landing Size (MLS) of 90mm carapace length (CL). This is larger than the EU MLS for lobster of 87mm CL.

The landing of berried lobsters was previously banned in the United Kingdom (from 1951) but was repealed in 1966 due to enforcement difficulties and the lack of any documented positive evidence . With the development of a test for berried lobsters (even if their eggs have been removed) this is no longer the case. There is currently no prohibition on the landing of berried or egg bearing or ovigerous lobster in Wales. A ban on landing berried and v-notched lobster significantly increases the spawning potential and resilience of the stock. Recreational fishermen are permitted to land 5 lobsters per day.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

The majority of landings for European lobster are made into the UK with a high proportion - up to 95% - of Welsh landings originating from within 6nm of the coast. Most lobsters are captured in baited pots (also known as traps or creels. 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 90 mm carapace length (CL) ( the length between the back of the eye socket and the most posterior edge of the shell) in Wales. Landing of V-notched lobsters is also prohibited, so the lobster, if re-caught, is returned to breed for at least one more year. V-notching involves the voluntary removal of a V-shaped piece of the telson (tail fan), which takes approximately 2 years to grow out.

Lobster pots are a selective method of fishing as undersized, egg-bearing females or immature animals can be returned to the sea alive. Unlike brown crabs, female lobsters feed when berried and are often caught in baited pots. In some coastal waters in England, e.g. Kent and Essex Inshore Fishery Conservation Authority (IFCA), byelaws require parlour pots to be fitted with escape gaps, thus reducing their efficiency. There is currently no requirement to fit escape gaps in Welsh pots. 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.


ICES. 2017. Report of the Working Group on the Biology and Life History of Crabs (WGCRAB), 1-3 November 2016, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK. ICES CM 2016/SSGEPD:10. 78 pp. http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/SSGEPD/2016/01%20WGCRAB%20-%20Report%20of%20the%20Working%20Group%20on%20the%20Biology%20and%20Life%20History%20of%20Crabs.pdf (Accessed July 2018)
Welsh Government, 2016. LEGISLATION FOR CRUSTACEAN FISHERIES IN WALES Published 1 February 2016 https://beta.gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2018-05/legislation-for-crustacean-fisheries.pdf (Accessed July 2018)
Welsh Government, 2014. Consultation summary of response to the Proposals for the Inshore Crustacean Fishery http://gov.wales/docs/drah/consultation/140829summary-of-responsesen.pdf (Accessed July 2018)
Welsh Government, 2014. Written Statement - Review of the Legislation Managing the Welsh Crustacean Fisheries http://gov.wales/about/cabinet/cabinetstatements/2014/welshcrustaceanfisheries/?lang=en (Accessed July 2018)
Woolmer A., Woo J., Bayes J., 2013. REVIEW OF EVIDENCE FOR BEST PRACTICE IN CRUSTACEAN FISHERIES MANAGEMENT IN WALES. Report to Welsh Government Fisheries and Marine Unit. http://gov.wales/docs/drah/consultation/140127crustaceanlegistionreviewevidencereporten.pdf (Accessed July 2018)