Local lobster lovers took to the water Oct. 2 looking for legal sized, spiny lobsters to scoop up then cook up. This past month “bugs,” as they are known to the initiated, were being pursued by divers and hoop-netters all around the Southern California coast.
For the past few weekends, outside the Marina del Rey breakwall, boats and glow-sticks, which mark where hoop-nets are dropped, have been out en masse.
“At the beginning of the season, there’s so many people out [at the breakwall],” said longtime Marina del Rey lobster fisherman Dave Kirby, who has conducted seminars on the subject for West Marine. “You’ll see 20 boats hoop-netting and then another five boats full of divers — it’s like Disneyland out there.”
Kirby said during the first weekend there were varying results, with some fishermen getting their limit of seven lobsters and others having some difficulty finding the much-desired nocturnal crustaceans.
The two approaches to finding and catching spiny lobster are extremely different. A night of hoop-netting might involve a bunch of friends or family members loaded into a boat listening to some music, having a beverage or two and checking on the traps set in various strategic locations. On the other hand, solitary divers armed with a flashlight and a bag will enter the dark, and sometimes haunting environment of the underwater world looking to sneak up on an unaware lobster residing near a hole or cave.
Many divers swim between the hours of midnight and the early morning because the lobster come out and feed during these times. But lobstermen like Kirby take a different approach that involves monitoring them through the course of the year to investigate where they live and then return when the season opens.
“When I dive, I dive during the day,” said Kirby. “They don’t have to be walking — we go into the holes where they actually live. We may see 50 lobsters in one little hole.”
Beyond the well-trodden area of the Marina del Rey breakwall, lobsters can be found wherever there is a structure. They ordinarily reside in protected places and all around the Santa Monica Bay where there are spots that fit the bill. Places like the submerged and broken Santa Monica breakwall near the pier, old shipwrecks, and other natural caves are all places where lobster can be found.
Everyone out on the hunt is obviously hoping for big lobster, but Kirby points out that there is etiquette to be adhered to when lobstering. As gratifying (and rare) as it is to catch one over 5 pounds, he says it’s hoped that a lobster that size would be returned because they are known as “breeders.”
“Yeah, most of us don’t take anything over 5 pounds — they usually don’t taste as good and it’s best to let them go so they make more,” said Kirby.
To fish for lobster legally, people need to have both a fishing license and a report card, which can be obtained in a day at most local tackle shops. The license costs around $50 and the report card is under $10. Hoop-netters should be in proximity of their nets. The days of dropping five nets in the water, hitting the bar and coming back three hours later to check on them are over. These days, the nets will be picked up if left unattended.
Kirby has also observed that this year, law enforcement has been more vigilant about legal issues.
“This season they’re really cracking down,” Kirby said. “They’re pulling a lot of people over to make sure they have their lobster cards, safety equipment, boat registration — they’re crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s.”
Lobster season will be in effect until March 17, but in most years, stocks begin to thin out through the second half of the season.