A UK conservation charity has called for action to halt declining populations of crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans.
Buglife, the only European conservation organisation to champion all invertebrates, warns that fisheries in the Western Isles and as far away as Jersey are reporting severe declines in Brown Crab catches per pot/creel.
The organisation also points out that population monitoring and stock assessments are not being implemented in many places; Scotland last published Brown Crab assessments eight years ago.
Given the apparent lack of stewardship, Buglife calls for improved protection measures and reductions in fishing efforts. Gaps in legislation and monitoring, they say, are putting crab and lobster populations at risk, as well as the fisheries that depend on them.
A major cause of declining catches, Buglife believes, is that large crustaceans have never been subject to the same level of scrutiny as the management of finned fish. Unlike finned fish, crustaceans are not subject to international agreements or negotiations.
As legislation is applied locally, regulations vary significantly between inshore fisheries on what can be caught and how.
Data presented by the Marine Management Organisation at the Blue Marine ‘Crab and Lobster Symposium’ last year suggests that UK catches of Brown Crabs have plunged from 35,000 tonnes in 2018 to 15,000 tonnes in 2022, while UK European lobster catches have been in gradual decline over the last decade.
The fear now is that lobster populations are crashing in northern Europe and almost zero in Norway, prompting an influx of European boats heading to UK waters.
Chief Executive of Buglife, Matt Shardlow, commented: “The Teesside mass die-off event has drawn acute attention to UK shellfisheries, but the bigger picture is just as concerning. Populations of crabs and lobsters are very vulnerable and are all in decline or under threat; action is required now to reduce fishing pressure.
“Last year, the UK government recognised crabs and lobsters as sentient beings, putting these animals on a par with finned fish, but efforts to protect their populations fall far behind, and unless this is levelled up, we can expect crab and lobster population crashes, with resulting big impacts on ecosystem health and fisheries.”