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.

California Spiny Lobsters

The largest portion of the commercial and sport harvest is always taken during the first month of the season, October, which also is the highest month of trapping effort. The effort and catch drop off sharply in January through the middle of March (the season‘s end). San Diego County, being the most central to the spiny lobster‘s range, usually produces the highest landings, followed by Los Angeles/Orange, and Santa Barbara/Ventura counties.

Commercial and recreational lobster fishermen are restricted to a minimum size limit of 3 1/4 inches carapace length (CL). Historically, the season for both has run from early October to mid-March. Since 1992, the sport season has opened the weekend before the first Wednesday in October, the official commercial season opener. Commercial fish traps, including lobster traps, must have a destruct-device of a type approved by the Department of Fish and Game. This is to ensure that lost or abandoned traps do not continue to capture marine life indefinitely. Since the1976-1977 season, it has been required that lobster traps be fitted with rectangular escape ports (2 3/8 by 11 1/2 inches) to minimize the retention of undersized lobsters. This requirement has been credited with reversing the long downward trend in landings previous to that.

Recreational harvesters need a valid sport fishing license with an ocean enhancement stamp, and may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance, such as a fish spear or a short hooked pole, may be used to snag the animals from deep crevices or caves. The daily bag limit for sport fishing is seven lobsters, reduced from 10 in 1971.

Hoopnetting Laws

Since I reside in California here is the California Code for hoopnetting in California. Check your own state laws for additional information.

Section 700(Title 14) License Provisions: Anyone 16 years and older must have a fishing license to take any kind of fish,mollusk,invertebrate,amphibian or crustacean in California, except for persons angling from a public pier.

  • 29.90(a) Open season: From the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March
  • 29.90(b) Limit: Seven
  • 29.90(c) Minimum size: Three and one-fourth inches 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. Any lobster may be brought to the surface of the water for the purpose of measuring, but no undersize lobster may be brought aboard any boat, placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person or retained in any person’s possession or under his direct control; all lobsters shall be measured immediately upon being brought to the surface of the water, and any undersize lobster shall be released immediately into the water.
  • 29.80(b) Baited hoop nets may be used to take spiny lobsters and all species of crabs. Between Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County, and the United States-Mexico border, not more than five baited hoop nets may be fished by a person to take spiny lobster and crab, not to exceed a total of 10 baited hoop nets fished from any vessel.
  • 29.05(c) Measuring Devices: Every person while taking invertebrates which have a size limit shall carry a device capable of accurately measuring the size of the species taken.

Note: These regulations are for the 2007 lobster season as printed by the California Department of Fish and Game in the 2007 regulations booklet, and may not be current. Regulations in California often change season by season and at times during the season, and it is the responsibility of the angler to know and adhere to the most recent regulations.

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Dealing With Sea Lions

Sea Lions are seriously party poopers and can ruin a great night of hoop netting. Over a period of time it seems that Sea Lions have learned how to pull baits from the hoop nets no matter how well you secure them. It’s almost a game with them, you can literally keep baiting your nets and watch them continue to dive down and eat the bait and tear up your nets. Don’t even waste your time if you see a Sea Lion going after your nets, you will literally exhaust your bait supply and walk home empty handed with torn up nets. I have heard one method where you tie the bait to the bottom side ofthe hoop net although they still can cause trouble to the net if you do this. I have heard that Promar manufactures a newly designed hoop net that incorporates an additional piece of netting material on the center ring forming a puch to hold the bait between the two layers. These are absolutely essential to any area that Sea Lions dwell. The design is so good that the company has even patented the idea. If Sea Lions are around and you are using the single bottom nets, you are wasting your time and better off in a new area altogether.

How Long Should I Leave Down the Nets?

Hoopnetting is great! Seriously who doesn’t get a kick out of hoopnetting? Here is my strategy for a fantastic hoop netting trip. I typically set around 5 or so nets that cover a large area as it gets dark. Then I go back and pull the first one and then on to nets 2 3 4 and 5. I have pulled nets ebfore that was half eaten in the short time between pulls. Pretty amazing actually. Just means the critters nabbed some and left before the pull. Once I start finding an area that has good catches I concentrate more on those areas and put more nets out. If catching is really slow, I sometimes even try re-baiting with some unsoaked bait and move the nets around again a little bit. I don’t sit and wait for the critters to find my nets. I move them around alot and hope to find the concentration of them all.

Hoopnetting Safety

Honestly hoopnetting is dangerous. There are many hazards that contribute to it that make it a dangerous environment. Operating a boat close to shore/or rocks at night is only the tip of the iceberg of problems. Now add several or even dozens of loats all with varying amounts of rope attached tot hem. Some marked with lights or LEDs and others not at all.  All having the ability to get entangled in your propeller possibly stalling the engine or tying up the props, disabling your boat. Add the excitement of a few beers, a wet slippery deck add a big swell or other boats going through. The hazards are endless! Make sure to be smart and cognitive about whats going on and to stay alert at all times.