Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Nephrops norvegicus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea (Farn Deeps)
Stock detail — 4b, Functional Unit 6
Certification — FIP Stage 2 (not yet available online). Applies to demersal trawl and creel in: North Sea: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 34. West of Scotland: 11, 12, 13. Irish Sea: 14, 15. Aims to achieve MSC certification by 2023, through: FU management, bycatch and habitat impac
Picture of Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The small Norway lobster is usually caught by trawling, often using nets with small mesh sizes, and therefore bycatch of other species and habitat impacts on the seabed are among the biggest concerns in these fisheries. Where the fishery overlaps with a Marine Protected Area that has been designated to protect seabed features, this concern is increased. In addition, management generally isn’t following scientific advice - with measures being across a wide area, rather than on a stock-by-stock basis, allowing catches are to be above recommended levels in some places.

In the Farn Deeps, there have been improvements in stock size and fishing pressure in recent years. As with most Nephrops fisheries in the region, management here was previous not applied at the functional unit level, and catches were well above scientific advice, causing the stock to decline. In 2016 specific technical management measures were brought in for this functional unit to address these issues. The Norway lobster stock here is now in a good state, and fishing effort only marginally above sustainable levels. It is unclear whether the recent improvement in biomass is directly related to recovery measures put in place by the UK, or to some external environmental fluctuations, but it’s likely they have had a positive impact. Around 75% of the catch is taken in bottom trawl fisheries using small meshes (70-99 mm), with around 12% from mixed demersal trawlers with a larger mesh size. Some selective gears are being used, but bycatch is still of concern.


Norway Lobster (also known as langoustine or scampi) live in burrows on the seabed. They are limited to a muddy habitat and require sediment with a silt and clay content to excavate burrows. Their distribution therefore is determined by the availability of suitable habitat. They occur over a wide area in the North East Atlantic, from Iceland to North Africa and into the Mediterranean, and constitute a valuable fishery for many countries. Males grow relatively quickly to around 6 cm, but seldom exceed 10 years old. Females grow more slowly and can reach 20 years old. Females mature at about 3 years. In the autumn they lay eggs which remain attached to the tail for 9 months (known as being “berried”). During this time the berried females rarely emerge from their burrows and therefore do not commonly appear in trawl catches, although they may be caught using baited creels. This habit of remaining in their burrows has probably afforded their populations some resilience to fishing pressure. Egg hatching occurs in the spring, and females emerge in spring/summer to moult and mate.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Stock Area

North Sea (Farn Deeps)

Stock information

The stock has now recovered to a good state, and fishing pressure has declined to very close to sustainable levels.

Having been below sustainable levels (MSY Btrigger = 858 million individuals) in almost every year between 2007 and 2016, the stock size in 2017 and 2018 suggests that it is now recovering, reaching 950 million individuals in 2018. Harvest rates have been decreasing since 2013 to reach the second lowest on record in 2018, at 8.4%, just above FMSY (8.12%). 2018 catch was 1,997t, just above the upper range of the catch advice (1,709t-1,982t).

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the North Sea is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 1,679 tonnes and 1,947 tonnes - similar to the previous year’s advice. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule and the upper limit is equivalent to FMSY.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

There are multiple management measures and a variety of enforcement employed in the fishery, though the quota is not applied at the functional unit level and therefore, the stock is at risk of overfishing. The Norway lobster stock in FU 6 is now in a good state, and fishing effort only marginally above sustainable levels. It is unclear whether the recent improvement in biomass is related to recovery measures put in place by the UK, or to some external environmental fluctuations.

Nephrops stock assessments are conducted by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Stock assessments are produced for 33 areas across the Northeast Atlantic, called functional units. However, management is applied to a separate 18 areas, called management units. These management units broadly overlap with the functional units, but not very effectively. Vessels are free to move between grounds, allowing effort to develop on some grounds in a largely uncontrolled way and result in overfishing. Therefore, scientists have repeatedly advised over the years that management should be implemented at the functional unit level, to better protect the Nephrops. This should provide the controls to ensure that catch opportunities and effort are compatible and in line with the scale of the resources in each of the stocks: functional unit TAC management is only one way of managing the fisheries and other approaches may also deliver the required safeguards. However, this advice is not being followed.

This stock is covered by the EU’s North Sea Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), covering eleven FUs: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 32, 33 and 34. Rather than holding strictly to MSY-based reference points, the MAP includes upper and lower ranges for fishing pressure (F). The ranges for F are set at the Functional Unit level and FU-specific management measures can be introduced if individual Nephrops functional units are found to be below the sustainable abundance levels.

There have historically been excessive harvest rates in the Farn Deeps, where there was increased vessel activity from other parts of the UK, resulting in overfishing. In 2016 catch advice was for 738t, but landings were 1,854t; in 2017 advice was 1,143t and landings were 1,963t; and in 2018 advice was 1,876t and landings were 1,807t, suggesting catches are now coming into line with advice. Catch advice for 2020 is between 1,679 tonnes and 1,947 tonnes, in line with the North Sea MAP ranges. ICES considers the entire range to be precautionary.

The EU Landings Obligation came into force for Nephrops fisheries in the 80-99 mm trawl fisheries in 2016, meaning that below Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) individuals, as well as adults that are unwanted (e.g. over-quota) must be landed rather than discarded at sea. As of January 2019, the discard ban applies to all species subject to catch limits. There are a number of exemptions that apply to Nephrops, including de minimis exemptions of up to 6% in some fisheries and full exemptions in fisheries where there is high survivability. MCRS for Nephrops in the North Sea is 25 mm carapace length (32mm for Denmark, Sweden and Norway). The ban would be expected to increase the number of below MCRS individuals and unwanted adults being landed, but throughout EU waters compliance with this regulation is generally poor and there is often no change in landings. It has been calculated that the proportion of catch of individuals below the MCRS might always be less than 6%, explaining this anomaly but not explaining the lack of landings of unwanted adults.

Discards in FU 6 have declined from 67% by number in 2001 to hover between 20% and 30% for the past decade. In 2018 discards were 21% by number. In 2016-2018, no Norway lobster were recorded as below MCRS in FU 6, despite below MCRS catches having been observed.<br
The UK is the main producer of Norway lobster from the North Sea (74% of landings by weight in 2017). There are a series of technical measures for fishing gear for this fishery, set by the UK and the EU, relating to: mesh size, distance from the cod line, panel length (depending on engine power), and mesh construction. UK legislation also prohibits twin or multiple rig trawling with a diamond cod end mesh smaller than 100 mm in the North Sea south of 57.30 degrees N. Recent measures to reduce whitefish bycatch (e.g. cod) required vessels in the northern North Sea using mesh size of below 100mm to employ highly selective gears (HSG), e.g. Gamrie Bay Trawl or Faithlie Cod Avoidance Panel. In 2012 most vessels operating in the northern North Sea and the Farn Deeps fished exclusively with specified highly selective gears (reducing cod catches by 60% by weight) or had installed 200 mm square mesh panels.

The UK fleet accounts for virtually all landings from the Farn Deeps. In 2016, the UK imposed emergency measures to reduce fishing mortality on the stock, which seems to be working. These measures included: a minimum mesh size of 90mm using single twine of 5 mm; only single-rig vessels of 350 kW (476 hp) or less permitted to fish within 12 NM of the coast (twin rig vessels permitted outside of 12 NM and multi-rig vessels with three or more rigs prohibited within Farn Deeps); and no gear with more than one codend per rig. There has been a substantial decline in larger, more powerful vessels (over 15 m and over 350 kW) whilst the smaller and less powerful vessels have either maintained or increased fishing effort, but there has been displacement offshore of the larger, more powerful vessels. It is difficult to assess the effect of the mesh size regulation. Nephrops fishing activity in the Farn Deeps is usually highest in the winter period, however Cefas analysis identified a pattern in 2016 and 2017 of unusual and significant effort targeting Nephrops in quarter 3 when the inshore fleet usually engage in a mixed fishery. The quarterly catch limit for North Sea Nephrops for July-September 2018 was therefore reduced from 20 tonnes to 4 tonnes per vessel.

Landings are monitored from EU logbooks and sales notes, or sales notes only for under-10m vessels that do not have to keep EU logbooks. Discards are estimated by observers on randomly selected vessels.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Nephrops in FU 6 are mostly taken in bottom trawl fisheries using small meshes (70-99 mm) (75% of 2018 catch), with around 12% from mixed demersal trawlers with larger mesh size. Increases in the numbers of vessels using twin-rig and multi-rig gears in this area are likely to have increased the effective fishing power per kW hour, although as part of the recent management measures, twin-rig trawling has been restricted. Since 2010 a number of vessels are reported to be using large square-meshed panels (of up to 160 mm) and in 2012, most vessels operating in the Northern North Sea and the Farn Deeps fished exclusively with specified highly selective gears (that have been shown to reduce cod catches by 60% by weight).

There is a Landing Obligation on this stock, but compliance is patchy. See Management tab for details.

This species is caught as part of a mixed demersal fishery, so bycatch can include cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, plaice and sole. In the North Sea, plaice and saithe are in a good state and fishing pressure within sustainable levels. Haddock and sole are in a good state, but fishing pressure is too high. Whiting is slightly below sustainable levels, and fishing pressure is too high. Cod is in a very poor state, and fishing pressure is too high. Recent measures to reduce whitefish bycatch (e.g. cod) required vessels in the northern North Sea using mesh size of below 100mm to employ highly selective gears (HSG), e.g. Gamrie Bay Trawl or Faithlie Cod Avoidance Panel. In 2012 most vessels operating in the northern North Sea and the Farn Deeps fished exclusively with specified highly selective gears (reducing cod catches by 60% by weight) or had installed 200 mm square mesh panels.

Endangered, threatened and protected species caught in the catch can include some skates, rays and sharks. These species are relatively hardy, and can survive when they are discarded, but their survival rates largely depend on how they were caught and handled. Mortality rates in otter trawls are shown to vary between 10-65%, depending on fishing and handling methods. Those vessels which employ codes of conduct on skate and ray handling and/or reduce the risk of their capture, will improve their survival rates, though many of these methods aren’t implemented over whole functional unit or regional levels.

Nephrops are mainly found in soft mud habitats, which are also associated other burrowing animals like other crustaceans, bivalves (including the long-lived and slow-growing ocean quahog), and polychaete worms. They are also associated with emergent epifauna such as soft corals and seapens, which are vulnerable to interactions with bottom-towed fishing gear. Disturbance from trawl gear on the seabed, especially over long periods of time, is likely to affect the structure, species composition, and biodiversity of the burrowed mud community.

There are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in this Functional Unit, some of which are designated to protect seabed features from damaging activities. This Nephrops fishery overlaps with parts of these MPAs, but the proportion of the catch coming from these areas is expected to be relatively low in relation to the unit of assessment (i.e. less than 20% of the catch), and so these impacts have not been assessed within the scale of this rating. Given the important role that MPAs have in recovering the health and function of our seas, MCS encourages the supply chain to identify if their specific sources are being caught from within MPAs. If sources are suspected of coming from within designated and managed MPAs, MCS advises businesses to: establish if the fishing activity is operating legally inside a designated and managed MPA; and to request evidence from the fishery or managing authority to demonstrate that the activity is not damaging to protected features or a threat to the conservation objectives of the site(s).


EU, 2018. Regulation 2018/973 establishing a multiannual plan for demersal stocks in the North Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018R0973&from=EN [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

Hinz, H., Prieto, V., and Kaiser, M. J., 2009. Trawl disturbance on benthic communities: chronic effects and experimental predictions. Ecological Applications: A Publication of the Ecological Society of America, 19(3), 761-73. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19425437 [Accessed 10.11.17].

ICES, 2018. Report of the Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK), 24 April - 3 May 2018, Oostende, Belgium. ICES CM 2018/ACOM: 22pp. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2018/WGNSSK/01-WGNSSK%20Report%202018.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) in Division 4.b, Functional Unit 6 (central North Sea, Farn Deeps). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, nep.fu.6, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4865. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/nep.fu.6.pdf [Accessed on 04.07.2019].

MMO, 2018. Reduced limit for North Sea Nephrops fishing explained. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reduced-limit-for-north-sea-nephrops-fishing-explained [Accessed on 04.07.2019].

Seafish, 2019. RASS Profile: Nephrops in the Farn Deeps (Functional unit 6), Demersal otter trawls. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/nephrops-in-the-farn-deeps-functional-unit-6-demersal-otter-trawls [Accessed on 02.07.2019]

WWF, 2019. Remote Electronic Monitoring in UK Fisheries Management 2017. Available at https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/Remote%20Electronic%20Monitoring%20in%20UK%20Fisheries%20Management_WWF.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2019].