By Pat Reynolds
As of Sept. 28 anglers armed with hoop nets or divers using their bare hands will be taking to the crevices, underwater rocks and caves of Santa Monica Bay seeking out the tasty but nimble California spiny lobster. The season runs until March 19, but now is when lobster fishermen are out in full force.
After the sun sets, certain areas of the water will be alight with green floating glow sticks that mark underwater traps set by boaters who have deployed a special net (laden with mackerel bits) that’s designed to outsmart and capture the nocturnal crustacean referred to informally as “bugs.”
For the lobster fishermen who opt to cast nets from the comfort of a boat, the beginning of lobster season is a great time to spend some time on the water with friends and family, as it’s a change from the normal daytime fishing trips. There’s a sense of adventure to be had cruising around in the dark looking for a nocturnal catch. Also, this particular target is a premium delicacy that can be worth a fortune at a restaurant or even a fish store.
Local divers also get up for lobster season. While there are some divers that spearfish, many hobbyist divers usually head over to Catalina Island where the water is clear to simply check out what’s going on below the surface. But the prospect of staying local and actually catching dinner with their bare hands gets a good amount of divers off the couch and onto the ocean floor scouring for the agile spiny lobster.
Once the divers are submerged, it can be a lonely, spooky sort of world in the search for these hiding critters. For those new to the sport, divemaster Craig Edelman offers this advice:
“When attempting to grab them in their holes, be aware that they [sometimes] share their caves with the California moray eel. Lobsters come out at night to start foraging for food. They defend themselves with the use of their spiny protective shells and their lightning-fast reflexes that enable them to swim away – backwards – until they find solace in another hole.”
Edelman also reminds lobster fishermen to shoot for the middle range when it comes to size.
“Remember, if it looks small – it is,” Edelman said. “Therefore, let it go. Objects underwater, when viewing with your mask on, look 25 percent bigger and 25 percent closer – and you cannot bring a lobster to the surface and then measure it.
“And, let the big ones go,” he continued. “The bull bugs… and when I say ‘big,’ I mean the ones that grab onto your arm and start dragging you back into their hole – let the daddies go because they help contribute to the millions of tiny lobsters every season which will grow big enough for you to take in about three to four years.”
While the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has declared that the fishery is currently sustainable, there is an ongoing fishery management plan underway. According to the agency, feedback from the fishermen is crucial and essential for them to understand and manage the lobsters’ future sustainability, which is why there are new changes in requirements.
As always there is a limit of seven lobsters per person, and everyone diving or fishing for lobsters must have a valid California fishing license, a spiny lobster report card and a measuring gauge to ensure legal size (minimum of three and one-fourth inches measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back. In addition, however, there are new obligations. According to the department:
“Report card holders who fail to return their 2013-14 seasonal lobster report card by the April 30, 2014 deadline will be assessed a $20 non-return fee when they purchase a 2014-15 lobster report card. The non-return fee can be avoided by returning lobster report cards by the deadline, or by sitting out the entire next fishing season.”
Senior marine biologist Kristine Barsky, said, “The lobster report card is the primary means of collecting data from the recreational lobster fishery. The number of report cards being purchased suggests a sizeable population of people targeting lobster in Southern California. Data collected from report cards allows (Fish and Wildlife) to detect changes in the fishery, whether it’s a trend in harvest success or a change in gear type. This information is vital for managing California’s lobster resource.”
Spiny Lobster Season officially opens
By Pat Reynolds