Tuesday, April 22, 2008

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.


Christina said...

Just replying to the post you left on my blog (notes from a lobster fishing village). Thanks! I like you're blog and am pleased to see other folks blogging about lobster fishing.

Ben said...

I was recently lobster fishing in southern California when a buddy of mine showed up with this thing called the "Hooper" Its made by a company that specializes in something but I didn't care about that because this thing was awesome. Lately I have been fishing at depths of 160 ft plus and this thing made pulling and setting the hoop nets a breeze. I ordered one the next day. When i receive I will post a pic. Here is the email if anyone wants to order one. This thing is awesome. MICABindustries@gmail.com