Thousands of lobster fishermen are eagerly awaiting the start of the sport season for California’s spiny lobster, which opens Saturday, Oct. 3 and continues through March 16, 2016.
There is currently a strong El Niño event occurring in the eastern Pacific, with above-average water temperatures expected to continue into the months ahead in Southern California.
“Lobster catches have historically been considerable during El Niño events, so it’s looking to be a plentiful season,” said Travis Buck, a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
The California spiny lobster is common from Point Conception, California to Magdalena Bay on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. A typical legal-size lobster will average over one pound in weight. Recreational divers and hoop netters will occasionally find lobsters over five pounds (considered trophy size) in California waters.
Regulations governing the sport take of spiny lobster have helped to preserve the tradition of lobster diving and hoop netting in Southern California. The 2015-16 spiny lobster season regulations include:
All persons age 16 or older who are taking or attempting to take lobster must possess a valid sport fishing license, ocean enhancement stamp and a lobster report card in order to take lobster south of Point Arguello. Children who are under 16 and fishing for lobster do not need a license, but must possess a lobster report card.
The daily bag and possession limit is seven lobsters.
Spiny lobster taken must measure at least 3 1/4 inches in length, and are measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell (carapace).
Any lobster may be brought to the surface for the purpose of measuring, but undersized lobsters may not be held in a game bag or brought aboard a boat and must be immediately released.
Harvesters may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance (such as fish spears or poles) may be used to assist.
No more than five hoop nets may be possessed by a person when taking spiny lobster or crab (or two hoop nets on piers, jetties and other shore-based structures). No more than 10 hoop nets may be possessed aboard a vessel, regardless of how many fishermen or persons are onboard.
Spiny lobster are nocturnal scavengers that feed on fishes, sea urchins and a variety of other marine life. During the day, they shelter in caves and crevices. Rocky reefs and other hard-bottom substrates are their preferred habitat, but they may also favor manmade habitats such as jetties, piers, breakwaters and artificial reefs. Surfgrass and eelgrass beds can also be productive lobster hunting grounds. At night, when they are out foraging, lobsters can sometimes be found on exposed sand or mud bottoms.
For hoopnetters, CDFW marine biologists suggest using an oily or aromatic bait to dispense a scent trail that nearby lobsters will follow back to the net. Squid, Pacific mackerel, bonito, anchovies and sardines may serve as good bait. A wire mesh bait container will help prevent the loss of bait to fish or other large predators such as seals and sea lions.
Because lobsters are strong and have hair-trigger responses when they sense predators, the best strategy for divers is usually to pin the lobster to the bottom instead of grabbing legs or antennae which could be ripped off, particularly since the lobster will have to be released if it undersized. Although lobsters can regenerate lost limbs, research has found that these lobsters ultimately produce fewer offspring because of the energy requirements for limb regeneration.
Prior to beginning fishing activity, the date, location and gear code must be recorded on the lobster report card. When finished fishing or changing locations or gear types, persons taking or attempting to take lobster must immediately record the number of lobster taken from that location, even if no lobster were retained. Lobster report cards must be returned to CDFW by April 30 following the end of the fishing season, regardless of whether the card was used or any lobster were caught. Persons who fill up a report card can turn in their card and purchase another.
Lobster report card data is very important for CDFW’s marine biologists to manage California’s lobster fishery. More than 19,000 report cards were received by the April 30 deadline last year. Pursuant to the California Code of Regulations, a $20 non-return fee will be levied for unreturned report cards or those that are returned after the deadline. Anglers may sit out one lobster season in lieu of paying the fee. CDFW reminds lobster report card holders to report every card — including cards that were lost — to avoid the fee, and also recommends reporting online and saving your confirmation number.
The complete set of spiny lobster regulations are contained in the 2015-16 Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet, found on CDFW’s website and wherever fishing licenses are sold. More information specific to California’s spiny lobster can also be found on the website.