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Lobster

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Lobster

Description

A beautiful dark blue crustacean that is in big demand by the public and commands a very high price. The claw and tail meat is considered a delicacy. Females with eggs are protected so you can eat lobster at any time of year. Pot caught lobster is the best choice.

Sustainability Overview

Stocks of lobster in Cornish waters appear to be relatively healthy and according to studies carried out by CEFAS the stocks are above limit reference points but below Maximum Sustainable Yield (CEFAS 2023). Fishing effort is also between limit reference points and MSY and effort has increased in past years. Pot caught lobsters that are under sized can be put back into the sea and survival rate is extremely high.

Each year thousands of juvenile lobsters are released all around Cornwall's coast by the National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow.

Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority manage lobster fisheries closely thorough minimum landing sizes, limits to number of shellfish licences and local by-laws, however there is no catch limit or limit on effort which means there is nothing to prevent overfishing.

The industry has set up a Fishery Improvement Plan for southwest crab and lobster potting which aims to further improve the sustainability of these fisheries, and Cornwall IFCA started in 2020 working on a shellfish managment plan to bring in better management for shellfish fisheries in Cornish waters. There is also now a Fisheries Management Plan for Crab and Lobster nationally, however this has not provided any changes to management yet.

In 2022 a total of 258 tonnes of lobster were landed to Cornish ports with a value of £4.4 million (MMO data).

Updated July 2024

Sustainability ratings for this species

Potting

Cornwall

Pot caught lobster is the best choice. Potting is a selective, low impact fishery and there are many local bye-laws that protect the stocks of Lobster.

Learn more

Gill Netting

Cornish waters

Gill netting using monofilament nets is far less selective and has more issues with by catch of non target species such as rare sharks, skates and cetaceans.

Learn more

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.

Biology

Lobsters are long lived crustaceans that inhabit coastal waters from rockpools down to depths of over 100m. They are relatively slow growing but once they reach reproductive age they are capable of producing large numbers of larvae each year.  Lobsters can grow up to 100cm in total length and are thought to live for up to 100 years. Lobster larvae are distributed in the plankton before settling out onto the seabed. 
Lobsters are opportunistic predators and scavengers and feed on a wide variety of prey including other crustaceans, worms fish and molluscs. 
 
 

Stock Info

According to the latest stock assessment by CEFAS (2023), lobster populations are heathier in Cornish waters than in many other areas of the UK. However, stocks are between maximum sustainable yield and limit reference point for males, and above MSY for females. This difference between male and female stocks could be due to the protection of egg-bearing (berried) females via a v-notching scheme. Fishing effort is higher than MSY, but below limit reference point.

The main fishing method; potting, is fortunately very selective and has low impact on the environment and fishing pressure has remained stable in the under-10m fleet, but is increasing year-on-year for over-10s.

Analysis of shellfish returns infomation to Cornwall IFCA has been used to look at trends in lobster pot fishing between 2016 and 2018 - this shows that generally landings have been steady but that landings per unit effort (LPUE) is changing slightly. Off the north coast inshore LPUE has decreased but offshore it has increased slightly. On the south coast LPUE has increased slighlty inshore, and off the west coast LPUE has decreased. 

Continued efforts by the National Lobster Hatchery Padstow has seen a big increase in the numbers of hatchery raised juvenile lobsters being released into Cornwalls coastal waters, accurate assessment of the effectiveness of this work is hard to carry out but it is hoped that DNA sampling could provide the answer in years to come. 

Management

There is currently no limit on the number of lobsters caught which some say is a risk for this stock, but current management has shown to have resulted in sustainable levels of catches over the past 20 years. In Cornish inshore waters lobster management is through an increased minimum landing size (90mm carapace length - EU Min size is 87cm) and by a  ban on landing berried lobsters (female lobster carrying eggs). Outside Cornwall’s 6 mile limit national lobster minimum landing size applies (87mm). The managment score for the pot fishery for lobster in Cornish waters is 0.75 (out of 1) which negatively affects the overall rating of this species.


The stock is supplemented by releases of juvenile lobsters by the National Lobster hatchery each year.

National legislation restricts the number of shellfish licences held and also prohibits the landing of  v -notched and mutilated females (females which have had a notch cut out of the tail fin by a fisherman voluntarily). Female lobsters that are carrying eggs when they are caught (often called 'berried') can optionally have a 'V' shaped notch cut into the tail. She then has to be returned to the sea by law as she is carrying eggs. 
This v notch informs other fishers that she is capable of carrying eggs. The notch will grow out over a number of years depending on growth rate. During the time this lobster is has a v notch in the tail it is illegal to land her and she must be returned to the sea when caught. 

Mutilated females is when a female that has been v notched has had her tail destroyed by a fisher to try and cover up the v-notch. It is also illegal to land mutilated lobster. If you are in doubt as to whether a lobster has a v notch or not, it likely does. 

Scrubbing is the description of using a brush to remove eggs from lobsters so they no longer appear to be carrying eggs. This is illegal. 

 

A positive development is the creation of a Fisheries Improvement Plan for Southwest crab and lobster pot fisheries. Through this an ambitious plan will be created that provides the fishery the tools to implement changes and to ensure their sustainable future.

There is also a Crab and Lobster Fisheries Management Plan nationally. This has yet to provide any changes to management.

Capture Info

Lobsters are mainly caught in rocky areas and on the edges of rocky reefs and the majority are caught in pots although occasionally they are caught in gill nets and trawls. There are several different designs of crab and lobster pots that are used by Cornish fishermen. Traditional inkwell pots were originally constructed from willow withy’s but nowadays pots are constructed from steel and nylon net with plastic fittings.  All are baited traps that allow crabs in but prevent them from easily escaping. Pots are dropped down to the seabed and are left for several hours or days before being retrieved. Any undersized crustaceans can be returned unharmed and in Cornwall there is little impact on the seabed on which the pots are deployed.

Recipes for Lobster

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