Countless freshwater fishermen are eagerly awaiting the beginning of the game season for California’s spiny lobster, which opens Saturday, Oct. 3 and continues through March 16, 2016. There’s currently a strong El Niño event occurring in the southern Pacific, with above-average water temperatures expected to continue to the weeks 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 maritime environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The California spiny lobster is common from Point Conception, California to Magdalena Bay in the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. A normal legal-size lobster will average over one pound in weight. Recreational divers and hoop netters will occasionally find lobsters more than five pounds (considered trophy size) from California waters. Regulations governing the game take of spiny lobster have helped to preserve the custom of lobster diving and hoop netting in Southern California. The 2017-18 California lobster season regulations comprise:
- All men age 16 or older who are taking or trying to take lobster must have a valid sport fishing license, ocean enhancement stamp plus a lobster report card to be able to take lobster south of Point Arguello. Children who are under 16 and fishing for freshwater don’t need a permit, but must have a lobster report card.
- The daily bag and possession limit is seven lobsters.
- Spiny lobster taken should measure at least 3 1/4 inches in length, and are measured in a direct line onto the mid-line of their back from the back edge of the eye socket to the back border of the body shell (carapace).
- Any lobster might be brought to the surface with the aim of measuring, but undersized lobsters might not be held at a game bag or brought aboard a ship and has to be immediately released.
- Harvesters may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance (like fish spears or poles) may be utilised to help.
- No over five hoop nets may be owned by a man when taking spiny lobster or crab (or even 2 hoop nets on piers, jetties and other shore-based structures). No longer than 10 hoop nets may be possessed aboard a vessel, regardless of how many fishermen or individuals are onboard.
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Spiny lobster are nocturnal scavengers that feed on fishes, sea urchins and a variety of other marine life. Throughout the daytime, they refuge in caves and cracks. Rocky reefs and other hard-bottom substrates are the preferred habitat, but they may also prefer manmade habitats like jetties, piers, breakwaters and artificial reefs. Surfgrass and eelgrass beds may also be effective lobster hunting grounds. At night, when they are out foraging, lobsters can at times be located on exposed sand or mud bottoms.
To get hoopnetters, CDFW marine biologists suggest using an greasy or aromatic lure to kickstart 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 assist in preventing the reduction of bait to fish or other big predators such as seals and sea lions.
Since lobsters are strong and have hair-trigger responses when they sense predators, the best way for divers would be to pin the lobster into the bottom rather than grabbing legs or antennae that could be ripped off, especially since the lobster will have to be discharged when it undersized. Although lobsters can regenerate lost limbs, research has discovered that these lobsters ultimately produce fewer offspring due to the energy requirements for limb regeneration.
Before starting fishing action, the date, gear and location code must be listed about the lobster report card. When finished fishing or changing locations or equipment types, persons taking or attempting to take lobster must immediately record the amount of lobster taken from that place, even when no lobster were retained. Lobster report cards should be returned to CDFW by April 30 following the close of the fishing period, whether or not the card was used or any lobster were caught. Persons who fill up a report card may turn in their card and purchase another.
Lobster report card information is essential for CDFW’s marine biologists to manage California’s lobster fishery. More than 19,000 report cards have been obtained by the April 30 deadline this past year. Pursuant to the California Code of Regulations, a $20 non-return fee will be levied for unreturned report cards or even those that are returned after the deadline. Anglers may sit out one lobster season in lieu of paying the fee. CDFW reminds lobster accounts card holders to report each card — such as cards which were dropped — to prevent the fee, and also urges reporting online and saving your confirmation number.
Travis Buck, CDFW Marine Region, (858) 467-4214
Tom Mason, CDFW Marine Region, (562) 342-7107
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988