Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Sea and West of Scotland (Celtic Sea - the Smalls)
Stock detail — 7g, 7f, Functional Unit 22
Updated: November 2020
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. 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 to be above recommended levels in some places.
In The Smalls, the stock is in an overfished state, but is not subject to overfishing. Management here is not applied at the functional unit level, and catches have generally been above scientific advice. In this area Nephrops are generally caught by trawls using a smaller mesh size (80-99mm), and therefore there is a higher risk of bycatch than in other demersal trawl fisheries which use larger mesh sizes. The main bycatch in this area are whiting, haddock and cod. Celtic Sea cod is at dangerously low levels and scientific advice is for 0 catch on this stock. The largest Celtic cod and whiting catches take place in ICES area 7g (FUs 19-22), mostly from demersal whitefish trawls, but Nephrops trawls in The Smalls account for a significant proportion of cod and whiting catches in this area, while the other two Nephrops FUs (Labadie, Jones and Cockburn, and Irish SW and SE coast) are also responsible for some cod catches in 7g.
You can increase the sustainability of the scampi you eat by choosing Nephrops caught using creels. If sourcing trawl-caught Nephrops, ask for those caught in nets with separator grids and larger meshes (e.g. SELTRA, incline mesh panel), which reduce the risk to bycatch species and discards.
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.
Criterion score: 0.5 info
The Nephrops stock in The Smalls is in an overfished state, but is not subject to overfishing. Nephrops norvegicus have a low vulnerability to fishing pressure (14 out of 100).
The harvest rate has fluctuated over time, and in 2019 was 8.5% - below FMSY (12.8%). The stock abundance had been above MSY Btrigger (990 million individuals) since 2006, except in 2016 and 2018. In 2019 it was 1,121 million individuals - above MSY BTrigger, but below the average for the 2006-2019 time series (1,223 million). In 2020 it again declined below MSY BTrigger and was at 750 million individuals - the lowest since records began in 2006.
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 1,238 tonnes and 1,560 tonnes. This is a 45% decrease on the previous year’s advice owing to the decrease in stock abundance.
Since 2006 a dedicated annual underwater television (UWTV) survey has taken place in FU 22, which gives abundance estimates for the stock with high precision.
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: 0.75 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 Nephrops stock in The Smalls is in an overfished state, but is not subject to overfishing. Catches fluctuate, but in general have been above 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 7 (FUs 14-17 and 19-22). Catches in Subarea 7 overall have been less than the TAC in recent years, as there has been a general decline in trawling fishing effort for Norway lobster. Landings and discard rates for Functional Unit 22 fluctuate but have in general been above the advice: on average, the total catch over the past 5 years has been 111% of the advice, but in 2017 it was 193% and in 2018 it was 54%. In recent years, several newer vessels specializing in Nephrops fishing have participated in this fishery. These vessels target Nephrops on several other grounds within the TAC area and move around to optimize catch rates. There have been concerns that effort could be displaced towards the Smalls and other Nephrops grounds due to effort controls in 7a and 6a, although this has not happened to date.
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). Irish discard survival experiments indicate that the trawl discard survival may be up to 64% when a SELTRA selectivity device is used. 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 discarding above the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) continues and has not changed markedly.
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
Criterion score: 1 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. 100% of Nephrops catches in this fishery are by otter trawls, mostly the small 80-99mm mesh size, which can have high levels of bycatch. This fishery catches some Celtic Sea cod, which is highly depleted. Nephrops fishing in this area is likely to be contributing to the continuing poor state of the local cod stock.
Demersal otter trawls use smaller mesh-sized nets (80-99mm) to catch Nephrops than other whitefish trawlers (100mm +) and therefore, it can be an unselective fishing gear, catching and discarding a relatively high amount of undersized Nephrops, various whitefish species and flatfish. There has been a trend for Irish vessels (over 18 m) to switch to multi (quad) rig trawls, which results in an estimated 30% increase in Nephrops catch rates and a reduction in fish bycatch of 30% due to the lower headline height. Nephrops fisheries in the Smalls bycatch cod, whiting and to a lesser extent haddock. Celtic Sea cod is at dangerously low levels and scientific advice is for 0 catch on this stock. Recent ICES reports (2019) indicate that the largest Celtic cod and whiting catches take place in ICES area 7g (FUs 19-22), mostly from demersal whitefish trawls, but more detailed data from 2015 indicates that Nephrops trawls in The Smalls account for a significant proportion of cod and whiting catches in this area. This fishery is therefore of particular concern for its impact on Celtic cod and whiting stocks. EU Technical Measures regulations require a square mesh panel of 120mm or a sorting grid to reduce bycatch, and bycatches of cod, haddock and saithe should not exceed 20% of the total weight. Parts of 7f and g (30E4, 31E4, 32E3) are closed to fishing in February and March each year to limit cod catches during spawning season.
Endangered, threatened and protected species caught in the catch can include some skates, rays and sharks. Skates and rays are generally 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. 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.
To further increase selectivity in the fishery, the Irish fishery have focused on increasing the codend mesh size, square mesh and other types of escape panels as well as the use of rigid sorting grids. They are conducting gear trials through a Fishery Improvement Project, but the FIP itself does not apply to this Functional Unit. Until 2018, a cod recovery plan in Irish waters placed additional restrictions on gear, with specific selectivity requirements, but the plan has now come to an end.
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 sea pens, 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. In 2017, the Marine Institute reported that an assessment of The Smalls showed only one species of sea-pen (Virgilaria mirabilis) and trawl marks were observed at 59% of the stations surveyed.
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).
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.Abalone
Clam, Manila (Farmed)
Crab, brown or edible
Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Mussel, Chilean (Farmed)
Mussel, mussels (Farmed)
Oyster, Native, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Caught at sea)
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Farmed)
Prawn, King (whiteleg), prawns
Prawn, Northern prawns, Northern shrimp
Prawn, Tiger prawns (Farmed)
Scallop, King, scallops
Scallop, Queen, scallops
Squid, Japanese flying
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Irish Government, 2018. Management Arrangements - Nephrops Scheme for the use of more Selective Fishing Gears. Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Available at: https://assets.gov.ie/97183/127b0b4e-d568-490a-be78-ee734d5771a6.pdf [Accessed on 08.01.2021]
Murray and Cowie, 2011. Plastic contamination in the decapod crustacean Nephrops norvegicus (Linnaeus, 1758). Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62: 6, pp.1207-1217. Available at doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.03.032 [Accessed on 19.11.2020].
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O'Brien, S., Blaszkowski, M., Butler, R., Fee, D., Hernon, P., Santana, C., Lordan, C. and Doyle, J. 2017. The Smalls Nephrops Grounds (FU22) 2017 UWTV Survey Report and catch options for 2018. Marine Institute UWTV Survey report.