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Crawfish, spiny lobster

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A relative of the lobster, the crawfish is a beautiful spiny crustacean that was once far more common around Cornish shores. Unlike a lobster they are an orange golden colour and are covered in spines. they also lack large claws, instead being equipped with spikey multi-purpose front legs and huge antennae. Crawfish are highly prized by the French and the Spanish and are suffering from overfishing throughout their range although stocks appear to be recovering in recent years in Cornish waters. 

Sustainability Overview

Crawfish were brought close to eradication in our waters following widespread capture by divers and netters in the 1960’s and early 70's. Following a surprise resurgence in the last few years catches of commercial landings of crawfish  have massively increased in Cornwall.  Although populations are high there are no limits on quanties of this species landed or the amount of effort on this stock. There is a minimum landing size but that alone is unlikely to prevent overfishng as was shown before. Better management is urgently needed, and indications are that unselective gill netting may already be resulting in overfishing of this recent recolonisation.

In 2021 a total of 38.3 tonnes of crawfish were landed to Cornish ports with a value of £982k (MMO data).

Updated April 2024


Sustainability ratings for this species


Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Caught in baited traps deployed on the sea bed.

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Diver Collected


Caught by divers. In the past this has led to over exploitation of this species over reefs and wrecks within diveable depths.

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Gill Netting

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Gill nets are lightweight nets made of nylon (monofilament) fishing line that are anchored to the seabed and are used to catch fish by entangling the gills. Tangle nets set on the seabed are particularly dangerous for crawfish.

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How we rate fish

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.


Crawfish, also known as European spiny lobster, are a warm water species that are at the northern limit of their distribution in Cornish waters. Crawfish make rasping noises (creaks) which they are thought to use to communicate and warn other crawfish of danger (Buscaino et all 2011). Young crawfish are called ‘miracle fish’ by north Cornish fishermen. Unlike lobsters Crawfish are far more mobile and are known to migrate for large distances over the seabed. They are thus very vulnerable to being caught in monofilament gill nets (tangle nets) set on the seabed for Monk and turbot.  They are long lived animals living for at least 15 years. More research is needed on their reproductive patterns in our waters. ‘Berried’ females carrying eggs are found here occasionally but it is also thought that their larvae are carried here with warm water currents so stock recruitment may depend on the health of stocks in Brittanny, the Bay of Biscay and the coast of Spain. In the Atlantic Crawfish undertake migration inshore in spring to breed and offshore again in late autumn (R. Goni and D. Latrouite 2005). 

Stock Info

This stock is poorly studied. Catches and catch per unit effort declined massively between 1977 and 1996 after the introduction of monofilament trammel nets and tangle nets to catch crawfish off Cornwall. MMO landings data to Cornwall shows an increase in landings since the mid 90’s. Since 2016 CIFCA have been recording detailed landings infomation on crawfish. It appears that recent increases in crawfish reported in Cornish waters is due to a successful recruitment event,with larvae most likely to have been brought here from brittany by ocean currents. Conservation efforts in Brittany in 2007 resulted in a large protected area within the Marine National Park Iroise, set up by fishers who were worried about the impacts of net fishing for crawfish. An area In the Chausee de Sein was closed and the area has seen significant recovery of  populations of crawfish. There are now large numbers of crawfish in Cornish waters however without better management it seems likley that the population could be overfished.  Landings of crawfish to Cornish ports have increased dramatically since 2019.  Crawfish stocks are scored using Route 2 , medium resilience, no concern for B concern for F. 0.75



In January 2024 the Minimum landing size for Crawfish in ICES area 7 was increased by the MMO to 110mm to align the size with minimum sizes within the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and conservation authority area. Additionally, a closed season from February to April was introduced for 2024, although the industry would like to see a longer closed period that better protects the stock going forward. These measures, called for by members of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, are welcomed as a step towards improving the sustainability of the crawfish fishery. 
The urgent need for improved effort management of Crawfish has been raised by fishers and MMO have held workshops to discuss options. It is hoped that the fishery can be controlled to prevent a boom and bust scenario which will be a loss to the fishing industry in the long term.
Any berried crawfish or lobster caught inside the CIFCA district (out to 6 nautical miles limit) must be immediately returned to the sea as close as possible to the area in which it was caught. CIFCA byelaw.
There is no catch limit or quota for this species, or limit on fishing effort in terms of number of nets or pots being used.  Apart from the minimum landing size the  management in place is the same as that which was in place when this species was overfished in the 1960's  and 1970's.
CIFCA Lobster Crawfish and Crab fishing bylaw 2016 requires all shellfishermen (and divers) to hold a commercial fishing licence and a CIFCA shellfishing permit if landing crustaceans caught within CIFCA district. It also ensures that all fishermen submit monthly returns details on catch and fishing effort / gear used. This will enable CIFCA to have an accurate picture of shellfisheries in our district. There are also provisos that enable the authority to bring in additional bylaws to restrict fishing if it is necessary.
Crawfish (spiny lobsters) are a 'designated feature of conservation importance' in the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) and Padstow Bay and Surrounds MCZ. For both sites, spiny lobsters have a general management approach of ‘recover’ to favourable condition.  For each species of marine fauna, favourable condition means that the population within a zone is supported in numbers which enable it to thrive, by maintaining:
1. The quality and quantity of its habitat
2. The number, age and sex ratio of its population. 
It is hoped that within these MCZs that management will be considered to ensure that this objective is met. 

Capture Info

Currently most crawfish caught in Cornish waters are caught using monofilament nets (tangle nets or trammel nets) set on the seabed. They can also be collected by divers, a method that can extremely rapidly deplete stocks on key sites such as wrecks or reefs. Both methods combined led to a crash in crawfish populations during the late 1960's and early 1970’s.  Without careful managment there is a high risk that this pattern could be repeated. 

Pots with wide openings can be used sucessfully to catch crawfish as has been demonstrated in the Isles of Scilly and in Ireland but it is tricky and at present many fishers are using monofilament nets. Fishing pressure needs to be capped in some way to ensure sustainablity and it is encouraging that fishers want to see managment brought in. 


Southwest crawfish Industry Workshop: 13 February 2024
Southwest Crawfish Industry Workshop: 3rd October 2023
Crawfish Net fishery Summary Statistics 2016 -2018 CIFCA
Gibson-Hall, E., Jackson, A. & Marshall, C. 2018. Palinurus elephas European spiny lobster. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 09-10-2020]. Available from:
IUCN Red list Palinurus elephas
Seafish RASS Crawfish in tangle nets 
CIFCA/Seasearch Spiny lobster survey March 2018
CIFCA Crustacean landings Monitoring 2016
MMO landings data.
R.Goni, D.Latrouite 2005 Review of the biology, ecology and fisheries of Palinurus Spp in European waters. Cah. Biol. Mar. 2005 46 127-142
Buscaino G, Filiciotto F, Gristina M, Bellante A and others (2011) Acoustic behaviour of the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 441:177-184  visited 4/3/15

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