Lobster Information

The California spiny lobster ranges from Monterey Bay, California to Manzanillo, Mexico. There is also a small, isolated population of this species at the northwestern end of the Gulf of California. The majority of the population is found between Point Conception, California and Magdalena Bay, Baja California. Adult lobsters usually inhabit rocky areas from the intertidal zone to depths of 240 feet or more.

Spiny lobsters mate from November through May. The male attaches a putty-like packet of sperm, called a spermatophore, to the underside of the female‘s carapace. When the female releases her eggs, she uses the small claws at the end of her last (fifth) pair of walking legs to open the spermatophore and fertilize the eggs with the sperm inside the packet. Fertilized eggs are attached to the underside of the female‘s tail primarily in May and June. “Berried” females are generally in water less than 30 feet deep and carry their eggs for about 10 weeks. The larger the size of the female, the more eggs she produces. Females sampled at San Clemente Island carried between 120,000 (2.6 inches CL) and 680,000 (3.6 inches CL) eggs.

Spiny lobster eggs hatch into tiny, transparent larvae known as phyllosomas that go through 12 molts. They have flattened bodies and spider like legs, and drift with the prevailing currents feeding on other planktonic animals. They may drift offshore out to 350 miles, and may be found from the surface to a depth of over 400 feet. After five to nine months, the phyllosoma transforms into the puerulus or juvenile stage. The puerulus is still transparent, but now looks like a miniature adult with extremely long antennae. The puerulus actively swims inshore where it settles to the bottom in shallow water and starts to grow if the habitat is suitable.

The spiny lobster‘s outer shell serves as its skeleton, and is referred to as an exoskeleton. To grow, a lobster must shed its exoskeleton. This process of molting is preceded by the formation of a new, soft shell under the old one. An uptake of water expands the new shell before it hardens. Lobsters are vulnerable to predation and physical damage right after they molt, until their new shell hardens. Molt rates for the California spiny lobster are assumed to be similar to those of the Japanese spiny lobster. A 0.24-inch CL specimen goes through 20 molts to reach 1.18 inches CL at the end of its first year. Four molts during the second year will result in a carapace length of two inches, and there are three molts in the third year. It takes a lobster from seven to 11 years to reach a legal size of 3.25 inches CL. Spiny lobsters molt annually, following the reproductive period, once they reach 2.5 inches CL. Growth rates, or the period between molts, are highly variable. They have been correlated with food availability, size, and sex. The larger an animal, the slower it grows. Injuries or disease will often result in a slowing or complete cessation of growth until the injury has been repaired.

Juvenile lobsters usually spend their first two years in near shore surf grass beds. Sub-adults have also been found in shallow rocky crevices and mussel beds. Adult lobsters are found in rocky habitat, although they also will search sandy areas for food. During the day, spiny lobsters usually reside in a crevice or hole, dubbed a den. More than one lobster is usually found in aden. At night, the animals leave their dens to search for a wide range of food. Adult lobsters are omnivorous and sometimes carnivorous. They consume algae and a wide variety of marine invertebrates such as snails, mussels, sea urchins, and clams as well as fishes, and injured or newly molted lobsters. Lobsters are eaten by sheep head, cabezon, kelp bass, octopuses, California moray eels, horn sharks, leopard sharks, rockfishes and giant sea bass.

A large portion of the spiny lobster population makes an annual offshore-onshore migration that is stimulated by changes in water temperature. During winter months, male and female lobsters are found offshore at depths of 50 feet and deeper, although individuals of both sexes have also been found in shallow water in winter. In late March, April, and May, lobsters move into warmer onshore waters less than 30 feet. The higher temperatures on shore shorten the development time for lobster eggs. Nearshore waters also have a more plentiful supply of food. In late October and November, the onshore waters cool, and most lobsters move offshore. Winter storms that cause increased wave action in shallow water encourage this movement. Lobsters generally move after dark and in small groups across the sand.

California spiny lobsters of both sexes reach maturity at five or six years and 2.5 inches CL. After maturity, male lobsters grow faster, live longer, and reach larger sizes than the females. Males can live up to 30 years, and females at least 20 years. There are records of male California spiny lobster weighing over 26 pounds and attaining lengths up to three feet. Today, lobsters over five pounds are considered trophy-size. Trophy-size animals are usually taken by recreational divers. The closed season protects egg-carrying and molting female lobsters. The size limit ensures that there will be several year classes of brood stock, even if all legal-size lobsters are caught each season.

Article excerpts used courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Game.

When to Go Hoopnetting

The best time to go out Hoopnetting is within an hour or two of dark. Giving yourself enough time to get all the nets spread out real well in an area and get everything ready to begin pulling prior to dark. If you are just starting to hoop net I’d suggest going at the calmest and flattest of conditions possible as it takes some skill to drive aroudn all of those floats in the dark without running over the ropes or floats. Once you become familiar and good at it it will be much easier to navigate during those rougher conditions of times.

Wanna know the real secret of hoopnetting? Storms.

The rougher the weather the better the catch. Whenever it is stormy, with a strong wind and surf the lobsters tend to move out of their holes. During such stormy conditions, the Lobster can be absolutely amazing! You hear stories of people catching 5 or more lobster on a single pull! Not to mention the stories of the trophy catcehs during or after big storms. Keep in mind that this is much more dangerous and should only be executed by the more seasoned hoopnetter.

The Best Hoopnetting Transportation

Smaller boats work great for hoop netting. They maneuver well around the floats and rope, and being so close to the water surface makes picking up the floats a breeze. Also if your motor dies in close to the beach or rocks, you may be able to row your way to safety. Pulling the ropes from a sitting position also has its benefits over standing up on a rolling and pitching wet deck of a larger boat. Visibility on the water in the dark in important and a small skiff offers unobstructed 360 degree visibility for locating floats in the darkness .

Bigger boats are much more comfortable on the water. You can put more people on the boat for a higher Lobster bag limit total for the night. You can have more “pullers” on board to relieve the poor guy with the gloves on. You will be able to safely hoop areas that smaller craft can’t make it to in rougher weather. Larger boats are also less likely to become disabled by rope entangling in the props. The higher horsepower and bigger props will just tend to shred the rope rigging.

KAYAKS

Hoop netting for Lobster from a kayak has recently become very popular. Kayakers never get rope tangled in their prop. If you cannot afford a boat and you want to be able to hoop net areas other than public piers, a kayak may be your vehicle. I know a young man who regularly hoops off his kayak with 5 nets and does very well. Plus it is great exercise paddling from net to net. It can be intimidating on a kayak at night with all of the bloody hoop net bait on board.

PIERS

Public piers are a great place to hoop net. The structure is there, and many Southland piers have artificial reefs built very close by. Some piers produce Lobster year after year. Not many fisherman hoop net from public piers. You are allowed to fish two (2) hoop nets per person on any public pier. A great place to learn the basics.

Introduction to Hoopnetting

February, 2003 One night, every year, fisherman and divers in Southern California scramble to get their boats and gear to a special fishing area on the water, usually not too far from the harbor. Once there, they ready all their gear and then the waiting game begins. At midnight the Lobster season opens and the race will be on to get a limit of the biggest Lobster out there. Why all of the excitement? Lobster populations are healthy in California waters and rank among the finest eating and priciest seafoods in all of the oceans. In this article, I will try to give an overview of this fast growing sport and the methods used in local Southern California waters to catch these fine eating creatures.

HOOP NETS

Hoop nets are manufactured by several companies and most are 32 inches across. A steel hoop supports the nets round shape and a smaller 12 inch steel hoop is woven into the center of the net. Bait is attached to the inner hoop. A rope bridle is attached in 3 spots around the outer hoop and connects to the main rope. The bridle helps keep the net level when pulling it up from the ocean floor. A float is attached between the mainline and the bridle to support the bridle above the net. Perhaps you have seen fisherman using a hoop net to help land a big “hook and line” caught fish from a pier. These are the same nets used to target Lobster and Crab by California fisherman. Hoop nets will cost you from about $10-$40 each depending on size, quality, features, what’s included, and where you buy them. Remember to abide by the laws or you may need criminal defense!One of the most valued features you can find on a hoop net is a double (two layered) bottom. More on this later.

By Frank Nielsen