Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2008 Lobster Season

The 2008 Lobster Season is officially underway, and most Southern California lobster fisherman have been doing very well so far. Although the past few years have seemed to yield more or less average catches, this year definitely looks like a big one (knock on wood).

Hopefully I'll get a chance to get some good pictures and footage out in the ocean soon to share with you guys.

Here's a really cool picture I snapped early in the morning a couple weeks ago on one of the trap dropping days just prior to the opening of the season. As you can see, it was incredibly foggy. The fog never let up, and we had to depend on radar and air horns to navigate safely around the coastline.
This picture was taken at the Rhine Wharf in Newport Harbor. To the right you can see the Cannery Restaurant, a local landmark (as well as an excellent restaurant).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Much Does a Lobster Fisherman Make?

Not too long ago I posted an article about an operator permit that someone in my family is selling. It's still for sale [edit: Permit has been sold!], but I've received quite a few inquiries about it. It seems that a lot of people wish to enter the lobster fishing business, but they aren't sure how or they doubt that they will be successful at it.

First of all, if you have absolutely no commercial fishing or boating experience, then it's a difficult thing to jump into. There's a lot more to it than just buying any old boat and some traps and dropping them into the ocean. It's also pretty expensive to get started if you don't already have a boat, traps, gear, etc. And let's not forget the price of fuel. Diesel fuel isn't immune to the gas price gouging going on, and it's a huge expense for commercial lobster fishermen.

Unless you plan on manually pulling up your lobster traps, you'll need a hydraulic lift fitted to your boat. Those lobster traps can get pretty heavy (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!). You'll also need special navigation equipment and sonar to let you know how deep the water is that you're dropping your traps. You don't want to drop a trap with a 50ft rope in 70ft waters, because you'll never see that trap again. Actually we don't measure them in feet...we measure them in fathoms...but I digress.

Have I changed your mind yet? Do you still want to be a commercial lobster fisherman?

The good news is that yes, there is a ton of money in the spiny lobster fishery. I can only assume the Maine lobster industry is also a great business to be a part of, but I'd rather be out here in California. The amount of money you make really depends on your means (boat, traps, gear, time, gas money) and the amount of work you're willing to put into it. There are indeed lobster fishermen out here in Southern California pulling six figures, but they work their asses off all season.

So, do you have what it takes? Or would you rather watch the
Lobster Wars DVD Set

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Miniature Lobster Boat

Just came across this, thought you lobster enthusiasts might be interested!
Lobster Boat Model
It's a really great Atlantic-style lobster boat model. It measures 25" long, 9" wide, and 9.25" tall. Great craftsmanship. Wood carvings, sand-cast brass, and lots of neat little details. It even has little lobster traps. Might be nice to have on your desk when you're away from the ocean!

I believe it's available for just under $90.

Edit: Sorry, it's no longer available!

California Lobster Fishing in Detail

Out here in California, we fish spiny lobsters. Or if you really want to get technical, Panulirus interruptus. They're somewhat similar to their distant cousins, the Maine lobsters, only without the claws. Instead they have a large pair of antennae. On average, spiny lobsters are generally bigger than Maine lobsters. They are found most abundantly in shallow, rocky areas along the coast from Santa Barbara all the way down to Mexico. They can also be found in large numbers around all the Southern Californian islands. Spiny lobster fishing has been practiced in Southern California since the late 1800s. In those days, a typical lobster weighed a whopping 3.5 to 4lbs on average. There was such a surplus of lobsters that a man could catch 500lb in just two hours on his own. Around the turn of the 20th century, new legislation was created to protect the dwindling stocks of spiny lobster. Even with new laws in place, including size limits, the lobster population was still diminishing. In 1909, lobster fisheries were officially closed, not to reopen again until 1911. Upon reopening, the lobster population had grown considerably.

Currently, Calfornia lobster fishing accounts for between 600,000 to 800,000 lbs of spiny lobster landed per year. The official season runs from the beginning of October to the middle of March each year. October is by far the busiest month. Things stay pretty busy until around January, and then it gradually starts slowing down until the end of the season.

Spiny lobsters in the 1.25-2.0lb weight class are in the greatest demand. It's easier for fish markets and restaurants to receive lobsters that are within that size range, so that they can charge customers a set price per lobster and maintain a consistent profit. Lobster fishermen usually fetch around $7 to $8 per lb. Most commercially fished spiny lobster is shipped to Asian and French markets, but the domestic demand has been steadily increasing in recent years.

Lobster fishing is considered a very lucrative business, but it's not the most accessible. There are only so many operator permits in circulation, and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is very particular about issuing new ones. Some years they have a raffle where they issue two new permits. Other years they issue no new permits at all. The policy changes depending on what they believe the current capacity of lobster fishermen should be. Operator permits can be purchased and transferred through the Department of Fish and Game from active, licensed fishermen.

Some other regulations pertaining to commercial California lobster fishing are as follows:
  • All lobsters caught and retained must meet a minimum size requirement of 3.25" in carapace length (CL), which can be determined by measuring the lobster from the back of the eye socket to the end of the body shell.
  • Lobster traps must feature a DFG-approved destruct device, to prevent lost or discarded traps from indefinitely capturing marine life.
  • Lobster traps must also have escape ports measuring 2.38" by 11.5". This helps to weed out undersized lobsters.
Separate regulations govern recreational lobster fishing, which is primarily performed by divers. The recreational lobster fishing season is identical to that of commercial.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Transferrable Lobster Operator Permit For Sale

Edit: The permit has been sold, but I'm leaving this post up here for reference. Thanks!

A family member of mine is retiring and selling his Lobster Operator Permit. Asking price is $65,000. This is for a West Coast permit, currently held in Newport Beach, CA. Please e-mail for further information. Price includes transfer fee.

Since 1996, there has been a restricted access program in place by the Department of Fish and Game to limit the number of Operator Permits in circulation, to help maintain the abundance of California Spiny Lobsters. It's important to note that while the number of permits is restricted, the amount of traps which any licensed lobster fishermen can implement is not.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lobster Fishing on the West Coast

When I tell people that I'm a part-time lobster fisherman, they usually envision dangerous and dramatic circumstances as depicted on shows like Lobster Wars, or even The Deadliest Catch. However, out here in Southern California, things are much more relaxed.

First of all, it's the Pacific Ocean. When Ferdinand Magellan first discovered it, he named it Mar Pacifico, which is Spanish for "peaceful sea". In contrast to the treacherous conditions of the Atlantic along most of the East Coast, working out here on the Pacific is smooth sailing, so to speak.

Here are some photos of a routine morning, traveling out of Newport Harbor.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Brief History of Lobster Fishing

It is unknown just how long ago the first lobster was caught, but we do know that it has been going on for hundreds of years. Some reports indicate that Atlantic Canadian natives as far back as the 16th century would gather them up in low tide. It is believed that they were much more abundant in those days.

The business of lobster fishing has been booming since the 1800s. New Englanders began canning sea food in 1843 in Eastport Maine. A Boston company called Shedd & Knox constructed a lobster factory on Pictou Island in the 1870s. It wasn't long before everyone was hopping on the lobster boat.

Back in those days, fishermen would row out in sailboats and set their traps. Each boat would usually be manned by two men and handle an around 200 traps. Just like it's done today, they would set out very early in the morning, before dawn, and usually return just before noon. Initially the lobster business was made up of these small independent outfits of men who bought their own boats and traps. Eventually, when the big canneries started taking over, the lobster fisherman were more commonly employees or subcontractors of the canneries, who would rent equipment. Lobsters were bought by the canneries at a set unit price, as opposed to the price per lb system in effect today. It's estimated that two able-bodied fisherman could pull in four to five tons of lobster per season.

Back in those times, the fishing industry was not subject to all the rules and regulations that it is today. A man could go out and catch a hundred lobsters without ever measuring a single one. At least, until 1871, when the government introduced new regulations regarding the use of soft-shelled lobsters and berried females. They also imposed size restrictions, much to the chagrin of the fishermen. The following year, they restricted fishing in the months of July and August.

These were times when lobster factories were still a rarity, and it wasn't uncommon for most lobster fisherman to process their catch in their own homes. They would routinely bring home loads of lobster, and with their wives they would boil them, and then extract the meat, can it, and even solder the can closed. Each can would be packed with 1lb of meat, and arranged into cases of 48 cans. The meat would not keep for long under these conditions, and commonly would go bad if not sold promptly. Luckily, the sophistication of the industry improved rather quickly.

By the 20th century, canneries were springing up all over the coast. The initial boom eventually slowed down, and the smaller canneries went out of business, however the big ones remained in control of the industry.

Interestingly, at the turn of the 20th century, lobster was actually considered to be a "poor man's" food. Children of fishermen would routinely be teased for having lobster sandwiches packed into their lunches. The public opinion of lobster has done a 180 since, and today is considered a luxury food in most parts of the world.

Along with the improvements to the packaging methods, there have also been vast improvements over the years in the boats used by lobster fishermen, as well as to the traps themselves. Thanks to the advent of technology, most lobster boats today contain radar, GPS navigation, and color monitor depth sounders, which allow them to view what the floor of the ocean looks like beneath the boat. This is an invaluable tool, since the depth can be determined instantly and the proper ocean floor terrain can be targeted to places where lobsters commonly flourish.

A long time ago, when lobster fishing was a bit more crude, men used to catch lobster by spearing or gaffing them in shallow waters. They would creep out by torchlight in the wee hours in search of low tide dwellers. Although most lobster fishermen at the time were only fishing for food, and not commercially, there was still a market for them, and they would fetch a better price if they weren't too damaged by the spear. Developing a way to trap the lobsters was a very effective solution to this problem. The first traps were simple wire cages, but they were soon replaced by hoop nets. The hoop nets were constructed from discarded cart-wheels which then had netting stretched over them. These traps proved very effective in shallow waters, which were usually rich with canner (smaller) lobsters. Remember, in the old days, fishermen were paid for each lobster, as opposed to the total weight of their load.

Lobster traps today on the East coast are generally made of metal, or a combination of wood and metal. On the West coast, where the waters are fairly calmer, some traps are commonly made of plastic wire, with rebar tied to one side of the frame. All traps have the same basic concept, where they are baited in the main chamber, so that the lobsters funnel into the first chamber, and then funnel through to the main chamber to get the bait, where they will remain until the trap is pulled.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Uhoh...this Lyre Crab is in quite the terrible predicament. Not only is he being held captive by air loving pirates, but he is also forced to share a cell with his mortal enemies, the Pacific Lobsters! His claws are no match against their strength in numbers. What will become of this poor Lyre Crab?!?!

Lyre Crab: Mortal Enemy of the Lobster

Those big ugly Lyre Crabs spell trouble for commercial lobster fishermen. The trouble is, crabs and lobsters are sort of like rival gangs. They tend to stick to their own. This turf war has been going on for thousands of years in the Pacific Ocean. This means that when one Lyre Crab decides to wander into a lobster trap, the passing by lobsters are detoured from entering. Eventually what you have is a trap full of worthless crabs (as far as a lobster fisherman is concerned).

California Lobsters

California Spiny Lobsters might not have claws, but they have heart! Not to mention they're delicious. Maine lobsters want to be prom queen, so they're always in the limelight. That's alright, let them have their moment in the sun. Everyone knows that the lobsters over here in the Pacific Ocean are redder, tastier, and more lobsterier.