Palinurus elephas


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Palinurus elephas
Species Authority: (Fabricius, 1787)
Common Name(s):
English Common Spiny Lobster, European Spiny Lobster
Astacus elephas Fabricius, 1787

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-09-26
Assessor(s): Goñi, R.
Reviewer(s): Richman, N. & Böhm, M.
Contributor(s): Wahle, R., Butler, M., MacDiarmid, A., Cockcroft, A., Batchelor, A., De Silva, R., Dyer, E., Kasthala, G., Lutz, M.L., McGuinness, S., Milligan, H.T., Soulsby, A.-M. & Whitton, F.

Palinurus elephas has been assessed as Vulnerable under criteria A2bd. This species is commercially exploited throughout its range where it is estimated to have undergone a decline of between 30-50% over the last 27 years (three generation lengths). While the trends in Spanish and Croatian fisheries have remained stable for the last 10 years, catch per unit effort in Corsica and Sardinia (two of the largest fisheries) has declined by 25% in 15 years and 60% in 25 years respectively. While these trends only run up until the late 1990s/ early 2000s these trends are thought to be ongoing. Recent FAO data for the entire Mediterranean reports an increase in landings from 165 t to 404 t between 2000 and 2009, however this includes the landings of P. mauritanicus. Future research effort should focus on monitoring the catch per unit effort for this species separately from P. mauritanicus to improve the accuracy of future assessments. 

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

This species is distributed in the Eastern Atlantic from Norway to Morocco and throughout the Mediterranean, except in the extreme eastern and south-eastern regions (Holthuis 1991). It is also present in the Canary Islands (R. Herrera pers. comm.), the Azores (d'Udekem d'Acoz, 1999), and probably also in the Madeira Islands (Goñi and Latrouite 2005).


Albania; Algeria; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Egypt; France (Corsica, France (mainland)); Gibraltar; Greece; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Lebanon; Libya; Malta; Monaco; Morocco; Portugal (Madeira, Portugal (mainland)); Slovenia; Spain (Baleares, Canary Is., Spain (mainland)); Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; Turkey (Turkey-in-Europe); United Kingdom
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – northeast; Mediterranean and Black Sea
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Palinurus elephas has been heavily harvested throughout its range and is generally considered to be overexploited, although long-term catch per unit effort (CPUE) data are not available for most fisheries (Goñi and Latrouite 2005). Traditionally, P. elephas was captured by means of baited traps until the development of new materials and hauling techniques in the 1960s led to the introduction of trammel-nets, which virtually eliminated trap fishing (Goñi et al. 2003).

In the Atlantic, catch rates from the Welsh fishery showed a decline of 92% between 1980 and 1997 (Hunter 1999). A sevenfold decline in CPUE was registered in the SW Irish fishery between 1972 and 1999 (Tully 2011). In the Mediterranean, CPUE in the Corsican fishery declined by 25% between 1984 and 1999, associated with a 38% increase in effort (fewer boats but more nets fished) (Ruitort 1999). In NW Sardinia, CPUE declined by 70% between 1976 and 2001, along with a 60% increase in the number of boats. Catch rates of two Spanish Mediterranean fisheries have remained stable during the last decade at levels about eight times lower than in a population protected in a MPA (Groeneveld et al. 2013).

Official landing statistics of 2009 from the FAO Global Capture Production summary (FAO 2009) for Atlantic fisheries of P. elephas and P. mauritanicus combined, show a dramatic decline from 900 t in 1966 to 56 t in 2009. For the Mediterranean, the two species are reported separately. Landings of P. elephas peaked in the 1960s and 1970s at near 1000 t, declined to 165 t in 2000, and increased to 404 t in 2009. Unfortunately, irregular reporting by most countries, and the mistaken inclusion of Palinurus mauritanicus or other species (e.g. Homarus gammarus in Greece or Panulirus regius in Morocco) in some records, renders the data useless (Goñi and Latrouite 2005). Also, in fisheries where P. elephas is sold locally (e.g. southern Europe and Mediterranean) a potentially significant proportion of the catch may go unrecorded. A recent reconstruction of Corsican landings (1950–2008) suggested that 16 times more lobster were landed than are reflected in the data reported to the FAO (Harper and Zeller 2011). Nevertheless, a decline from 300 t in 1954 to 80 t in 2008 was still apparent.

A recent assessment of the Balearic, Corsican and Sardinian fisheries (LANCONNECT project; showed that fleets of 170–220 boats target P. elephas in each region with trammel nets during the 5 to 8-month fishing season. The estimated landings of each of these fisheries in 2009 ranged between 60 and 100 t, amounting to a total of 280–300 t, or 70% of the official FAO landings (404 t) for the entire Mediterranean in 2009. Tunisia has a reliable series of landing statistics because nearly all catches of P. elephas are exported for foreign consumption. Annual landings between 1990 and 2002 peaked at 74 t in 1993 and declined gradually to 33 t in 2002 (Quetglas et al. 2004), representing a decline of 44% in nine years.  In Croatia reported annual landings were highest in 1953 and declined to 23-43 tons between 1985 – 1998, remaining stable the following decade (A. Soldo pers. comm. in Goñi and Latrouite 2005).

French Atlantic fisheries landed up to 1000 t in the 1950s, but only 25 t in 2010 (Laurans et al. 2011). Presently, P. elephas is considered to be a bycatch of some 100 finfish netting vessels. Irish P. elephas exports fluctuated from a high of 271 t in 1959 declining to current landings of around 20 t by 30 boats (Tully 2011).  Portuguese stocks (mainly along the southwest coast) are also overfished with consistent declines in abundance and present landings down to 10% of those in the late 1980s and 1990s (Galhardo et al. 2006); annual official landings in 2006-2007 amounted to 12 t (Barrento et al. 2008).  In combination, and despite under-reporting, the trends shown above reflect strong declines of lobster stocks in the Atlantic, where some fisheries are commercially extinct, although returning in some areas (i.e. Ireland), but also in the Mediterranean where viable fisheries operate. The cause appears to be primarily fishing mortality.

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

This species lives on rocky and coralligenous habitats from the coast down to 200 m of depth (Ceccaldi and Latrouite 1994) although in the Mediterranean it has been recorded down to 260 m (R. Goñi pers. comm.)

Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is harvested throughout its range by recreational and commercial fisheries.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Over-exploitation by fisheries is a major threat to this species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

There are a number of measures in place for the management of this species, including: prohibition of landing berried females, minimum size limits, restrictions on gear type and number of nets and pots per boat. Closed seasons, where in force, appear to be the most effective management measure for the species.  There are several marine protected areas that are closed or limit lobster fishing within their boundaries in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, although most of them are small.  The exception is the MPA of Columbretes Islands, a 23-year old, no-take area of 55 km2 off eastern Spain, where P. elephas has reached biomass levels 14 times higher than in fished areas, regional reproductive potential has increased by six (Diaz et al. 2010) and an annual net contribution of spillover from the MPA to local fishery yields of 13% has been estimated (Goñi et al. 2006, 2010).

Information is needed on catches and effort in the major fisheries and how these have changed with time. Monitoring of CPUE data across all fisheries associated with this species is essential to determine the level of impact harvesting is having on local populations, as well as the species as a whole. It is recommended that a species action plan is developed linking all fisheries associated with this species in order to cease population decline and allow sustainable practices (e.g. LANCONNECT Initiative:

Citation: Goñi, R. 2014. Palinurus elephas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 17 September 2014.
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