American lobster – Retain & Report

The American lobster (Homarus americanus) poses a serious risk in Northern Ireland waters. Through competition, inter-breeding and by spreading disease they could have significant detrimental impacts on our native lobster (Homarus gammarus). Specimens in the wild are probably as a result of deliberate releases or escapes from captivity.

All images © CEFAS/Defra
© CEFAS/Defra

The American lobster (Homarus americanus) can be easily confused with our native European Lobster (Homarus gammarus). Expert identification is usually required so retain any suspicious specimens and take photographs of key features. Differences can be subtle, but a key characteristic is the presence of at least one ventral tooth on the rostrum (nose-like projection between the eyes) of American Lobster. American Lobster may also have a different coloured body and markings. 

It is legal to land, sell and consume an American lobster, but as they are not ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland, under the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order (Northern Ireland) 2019 it is an offence to release or allow this species to escape into the wild. This includes returning them to the sea at the point of capture.  

Retain & Report awareness campaign

American lobsters have been recorded in British and Irish waters so the “Retain & Report” awareness campaign was launched in Northern Ireland to look out for them here. The aim of the campaign is to make our fishing fleet aware of the need for vigilance and to encourage reporting of any suspected American lobsters. A leaflet has been published highlighting how to identify and report American lobsters.

The key message of the campaign is – Retain and Report any suspected American Lobster, do not return it to the water. If you think you have caught a suspected American lobster (or hybrid), submit your report to CEDaR online recording or via the iRecord App. When you have submitted your report, DAERA staff will verify it and provide further advice.

When submitting a report please include photos of key identification features such as;

    • Presence of at least 1 ventral tooth on the rostrum,
    • Red tipped spines on the rostrum,
    • Orange-red underside of claw,
    • Orange, reddish, dark green or black speckles on back and neck.

If possible, try to include the following information when reporting a suspected American lobster;

    • Date and location,
    • Sex of the animal,
    • If claws are banded,
    • If is carrying eggs,
    • Size (weight and/or carapace length).

The aggressive nature of lobsters can sometimes result in damage to the rostrum during conflicts. Differences in coloration can also occur in our native European lobster, e.g. specimens caught off wrecks are often rust tainted. 

Retention of a walking leg and freezing may be helpful for later DNA analysis if needed. 

For further information please contact

Further Resources

Invasive Species Northern Ireland

Invasive Species Northern Ireland