Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Nephrops norvegicus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pot or creel
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — West Scotland (South Minch)
Stock detail — 6a, Functional Unit 12
CertificationFIP Stage 3
Picture of Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2020 

In South Minch, the Nephrops stock is not subject to overfishing, and is not in an overfished state. Management here is not applied at the functional unit level, but catches have been below the scientific advice in recent years. In this area creeling is responsible for around 28% of catches. It has a much lower bycatch risk than trawling, and unwanted or undersized animals caught in pots are much more likely to survive being returned to the sea. There are risks of ghost fishing from lost pots and entanglement from creels, but there are few data to indicate how much of a concern this is. Impact on the seabed from pots is minimal. This Functional Unit overlaps with a number of MPAs. A number of management measures are in place, e.g. zoning or banning of trawling, and zoning of creeling, to mitigate impacts on the protected features.

A credible Fishery Improvement Project is underway to address some of the key concerns relating to management, bycatch and habitat impacts in this fishery.


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 info

The Nephrops stock in South Minch is not subject to overfishing and is not in an overfished state.

The harvest rate has been below FMSY (11.7%) since 2013 and in 2019 was at its lowest value, at 3.5%. The stock abundance has generally fluctuated some way above MSY Btrigger (1,020 million individuals) and in 2020 was 1,927 million individuals.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for Western waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 4,703 tonnes and 5,916 tonnes. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule and the upper limit is in line with FMSY. This is a 17% decrease on the previous year’s advice.

While underwater TV surveys have provided fairly precise estimates of abundance since 1995, some patches of muddy sediment supporting Nephrops populations in the inshore areas and sea lochs of FU 12 are not routinely surveyed. These areas are not included in the estimate of abundance, so it is likely to be a slight underestimate. The inclusion of vessels smaller than 15 m would likely increase the fished area in some of the inshore locations and it is known that most of the sea lochs have areas of mud substrate and are typically fished by creel boats. In recent years, limited TV surveys have taken place in some of the sea lochs and attempts are being made to utilise these data to improve estimates of mud area and Nephrops abundance in the South Minch.

A 2011 study on Nephrops in the Clyde found a high prevalence of plastics and suggested that this could have implications for the health of the stock - this may have relevance for other Nephrops stocks. Some of the plastics were sourced to fishing waste. Studies have shown that the effects of climate change - warmer waters, reduced oxygen levels, higher ocean acidity, and higher levels of heavy metals - can negatively impact Nephrops’ larval development and make adults more susceptible to disease. Lower oxygen levels can also cause Nephrops to leave their burrows, making them easier to catch.


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 stock is not currently subject to overfishing, nor is it in an overfished state. Catches have been below the advice in recent years.

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. This advice is not being followed.

This stock is covered by the EU Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), covering eighteen FUs, including 11-17 and 19-22. 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. However, a single TAC covers the whole of ICES Subarea 6 (FUs 11-13). Catches in Subarea 6 overall have been less than the TAC in recent years, as there has been a general decline in trawling fishing effort for Norway lobster. Total catch in FU12 has averaged 65% of the advised limit over the past 5 years. In 2018, there was a large reduction in landings and effort in all three functional units on the west coast. This reduction was partly explained by the migration of the west coast fleet to the east coast to take advantage of improved Nephrops fishing opportunities in the northern North Sea. Anecdotal information from the fishing industry suggests that an additional factor contributing to the migration of the fishing fleet was an issue with foreign crew being unable to work in the inshore grounds of the west coast therefore moved to the offshore grounds of the east coast.

The EU Landings Obligation (LO) came into force for Nephrops fisheries in the 80-99 mm trawl fisheries in 2016, and in 2019 it was extended to all species subject to catch limits. This means that individuals that are below the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS), as well as adults that are unwanted (e.g. over-quota), must be landed rather than discarded at sea. For Nephrops in the Celtic Seas, MCRS is 25 mm carapace length - above the size of maturity of female Nephrops (23mm). There are some exemptions, meaning a certain amount of Nephrops can still be discarded at sea (up to 5% de minimis in some fisheries; full exemptions where there is high survivability e.g. in pots or larger-meshed nets). Scottish discard survival experiments indicate that the trawl discard survival may be greater than 50%. The LO should increase both the number of small (below-MCRS) Nephrops and unwanted adults being landed, but throughout EU waters compliance with this regulation is generally poor and there is often no change in landings. Observations from the 2016-2018 fishery indicate that some discarding above the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) continues. Over the past 5 years, discards have averaged 5% of the total catch by weight.

Scotland has recently established a network of regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (rIFGs), non-statutory bodies that aim to improve the management of Scotland’s inshore fisheries out to six nautical miles, and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments. Although no IFG proposals specific to the management of Nephrops fisheries have yet been adopted, some of the IFG management plans for the Scottish West Coast include spatial management of Nephrops fisheries and the introduction of creel limits. Overall effort by the creel fleet in terms of creel numbers is not known, and measures to control numbers are not in place. There is a need to ensure that the combined effort from all forms of fishing is taken into account when managing this stock.

Project UK is implementing Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) on eight UK fisheries that have been selected for their importance to the UK market. This includes trawl- and creel-caught Nephrops in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and West of Scotland (functional units 5-15 and 34). Aims include the development of functional-unit-based management (including Harvest Control Rules), improving the assessments of the various Nephrops stocks, better understanding and mitigation of the impact of the fishery on other species and habitats, improving compliance with the Landing Obligation, and better monitoring of the fishery. These improvements could go a long way to improving the sustainability of these fisheries. The FIP is in stage 3, indicating that implementation of the workplan has begun. It should be complete and ready to undergo assessment for Marine Stewardship Council certification in April 2024. It is transparently run, with meeting minutes and action plans being made available online. The FIP is currently on target, according to the latest Action Plan (April 2020). However, Functional-Unit-specific catch limits and days at sea limits have been ruled out as being unworkable for the industry. It remains to be seen if effective alternative measures can be implemented to ensure that stocks won’t be overexploited. Suggested measures include minimum landing sizes, restricting what fishing gear can be used, restricting vessel power or length, and closing parts of the functional units. Research is underway into the impact of the fishery on habitats and Endangered, Threatened and Protected species. Stock status for each FU is reviewed against MSC certification benchmarks annually. MCS considers this FIP to be credible.

Both the EU and UK have fishery management measures in place, which can include catch limits, targets for population sizes and fishing mortality, and controls on what fishing gear can be used and where. In the EU, compliance with regulations has been variable, and there are ongoing challenges with implementing some of them. There was a target for fishing to be at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020, but this was not achieved. The Landing Obligation (LO), an EU law that the UK has kept after Brexit, requires all fish and shellfish to be landed, even if they are unwanted (over-quota or below minimum size). It aims to promote more selective fishing methods, reduce bycatch, and improve recording of everything that is caught, not just what is wanted. Compliance with the LO is generally poor and actual levels of discards are difficult to quantify using the current fisheries observer programme.

In the UK, it is too early to tell how effective management is, as the Fisheries Act only came into force in January 2021. The Act requires the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) (replacing EU Multi-Annual Plans) but there are no details yet on how and when these will be developed. FMPs have the potential to be very important tools for managing UK fisheries, although data limitations may delay them for some stocks. MCS is keen to see FMPs for all commercially exploited stocks, especially where stocks are depleted, that include:
Targets for fishing pressure and biomass, and additional management when those targets are not being met
Timeframes for stock recovery
Technologies such as Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) to support data collection and improve transparency and accountability
Consideration of wider environmental impacts of the fishery

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

Nephrops live in burrows in the seabed. Therefore, to capture Nephrops, fishing vessels use fishing gear near or on the seabed such as demersal trawls and creels. In 2018 in South Minch, 28% of landings were caught by pots or creels. This method has low levels of bycatch and a low impact on habitats.

Pots or creels are a much more selective method of fishing than trawls as immature or egg-carrying animals can be returned to the sea alive. Skippers generally aim for where Nephrops populations are likely to be highest, so the bycatch that is landed from creel fisheries is generally low and includes whelks and hermit crabs. The discarded catch is small (around 6% of total catch) and usually includes brown crab, velvet crab and lobster, which are likely to survive discarding.

Of concern in the creel fishery is the potential for entangling whales in Scottish waters. Over half of all baleen whales that have stranded may have died due to entanglement. Creel ropes were attributed to the fishing gear involved in several instances. The creeling fishery may also impact humpback whale, but with a lack of information and no requirement to report entanglements, the true number of entanglements is unknown.

The impact of creels on the seabed is likely to be low: they are normally set on a mud surface but can sometimes impact sessile species - although the impact of creels on sea pens is considered minimal. To mitigate their impact, under the National Marine Planning process, habitats are being mapped in Scottish waters. Burrowed mud habitat is mapped as a priority marine feature, as per OSPAR Convention legislation.

There is a potential for ghost fishing as an estimated 7-8% of creels that are fished may be lost per year.

Creeling produces a larger, higher quality product. Landing live ‘tubed’ prawns is now common in the creel sector on the northeast coast and throughout the west coast of Scotland.

In February 2016, phase 1 of the fisheries management measures for inshore MPAs in Scottish waters came into force. Although not specific to the management of the Nephrops fishery, they influence spatial patterns of fishing for Nephrops where controls on the two main gear types, demersal trawls and creels are implemented on Nephrops habitat. Within the South Minch functional unit, seven MPAs are covered by fisheries management measures. MPAs on the main areas of Nephrops habitat include the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura NCMPA, where demersal trawling is banned in some areas (i.e. zoned), and seasonal closures implemented in others; Loch Sunart NCMPA/SAC, where demersal trawling is banned and creeling is zoned; the East of Mingulay SAC, where demersal trawling is banned and creeling is zoned; and the Trenish Isles SAC, where demersal trawling banned. Loch Duich, Long and Alsh NCMPA/SAC covers some patches of muddy sediment, where demersal trawling is banned or temporally closed in other areas that extend beyond the MPA onto muddy sediment. Other areas include the Loch Creran SAC/NCMPA, where demersal trawling is banned and creeling is zoned, and the Firth of Lorn SAC, which has the same management as the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura NCMPA. For the Firth of Lorn and Loch Creran, management was in place prior to 2016. An additional NCMPA, at Loch Carron, was designated using emergency powers in 2017. Given the important role that Marine Protected Areas (including NCMPAs and SACs) 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).


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