Lobster – it’s widely regarded as gourmet seafood, and is a delicious treat if you can afford it and it’s ethically prepared. But while lobster is likely a rare culinary occasion for most, it’s one of the staple catches within the Scottish fishing sector. Just like brown crab, lobsters are caught and landed all around our coastline mainly by smaller local boats and therefore help bring in distributed value to communities.
Scottish lobsters are populations of the European lobster (Homarus gammarus), and are dark blue unlike their brown-orange North American cousins. They are caught by creels (baited pots, set on the seabed) which coax lobsters out of their hiding spots, especially around rocky shorelines.
Lobster fishing has been practised for centuries, and fisheries have boomed in recent years. Around 1,200 tonnes, roughly doubling since the 1970s and 1980s. The vast majority of lobster is caught by Scottish boats landing to local ports. These are often sold to higher-end restaurants but there has been a increase in exports, especially since 2010. However, with some inshore fishermen considering localising their markets, there are signs that this special shellfish may be available closer to home.
“Many hope one of the positives from this outbreak, if there are any, is that it reignites that link between our seas and the fish on our plates…”
— Open Seas (@TheOpenSeas) April 20, 2020
Remember that lobster fisheries fluctuate and so there is a high degree of seasonal availability often due to variability of environmental conditions.
If you’re buying lobster, please make sure you check and ensure it meets the minimum landing size. Confusingly these sizes are different in different areas and also depends whether it’s a male or a female. Check out the official control guide here. Just as crucially try to make sure it is not ‘berried’. Female lobsters carry their eggs for up to 11 months and responsible fishermen advocate the return of these ‘berried hens’ to sea to allow those eggs to hatch and underpin the viability of local populations.
Unfortunately this is not happening everywhere and there is also concern about overfishing the stock and risk of serious impacts for the industry. Cases of undersized lobster catches are not uncommon. In sustainability and fisheries management terms, there is a lot that needs improved; there are no limits on the overall volume of lobsters that can be caught, stock assessments show that some populations are being overfished and in some areas the data is so inadequate that a realistic stock assessment is not possible. It’s crucial that buyers check the situation locally. Research is showing that area-based measures can help – studies by COAST and University of York of lobster populations in Lamlash Bay show that there is a ‘spillover effect’ with larger lobsters recorded nearer to the No Take Zone.
The MCS Good Fish Guide rates Scottish lobster fisheries as ‘4’ due to the shortage of adequate controls within the fishery.
This blog is part of our ‘Fish Local’ series, to help inform how you can buy locally-landed and sustainable seafood.
Mapped data courtesy of MMO and made available under OGL. Catch data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings per ICES rectangle. Landings data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings to Scottish Ports. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-sea-fisheries-annual-statistics-report-2018.
Fish images above courtesy of illustrations from The Natural History of British Fishes (1802) by Edward Donovan (1768-1837), digitally enhanced by rawpixel.com and adapted by Open Seas