Lobster season officially opened October 1st.
And local fishermen, divers, kayakers and first-time lobster trappers have been out in full force near the Marina del Rey breakwater and beyond trying to lure the creepy, crawly little critters into their nets.
Or, in the case of the divers, attempting to quietly sneak up on them and throw them in a bag.
On the ocean side of the rocks, the scene is a multicolored spectrum of floating lights or “glow sticks” bobbing on top of the water marking the submerged hoop nets below as an array of idling boats hovers above, monitoring the traps.
On a busy night, there can be more than 40 boats within close proximity, nearly bumping into each other, full of lobster fishermen who hope that the mackerel in their nets will tempt the prized crustaceans more than the mackerel in the other guy’s net set just 50 yards away.
The California spiny lobster — or rock lobster, as they are commonly known — lives in and amongst reefs and rocky environments where they can easily hide.
Occasionally, they venture out of their cave-like rock crevice homes to poke around and scavenge for crumbs upon the ocean floor.
They typically move slowly along, searching for mussels, snails, worms and other slow-moving animals to feed upon.
“They love mussels — that’s their favorite food,” said Steve Blair, senior aquarist at the Long Beach Aquarium. “They’re commonly found in these breakwaters because it’s a porous habitat with lots of caves and holes to hide in.
“There’s also an abundant supply of food with the mussels that live all over the break walls.”
Locals explore areas from Malibu all the way down to King Harbor seeking out rock forms, reefs, or any other potential environment where the lobsters might inhabit.
Since lobsters prefer these rocky crevices, the most effective way of catching them is to get as close to their abodes as possible.
Kayaks, inflatables and divers have the most success in accessing these spots.
“I anchor my dinghy about 100 feet from the breakwater and I swim in from there,” said Daniel Gleich, who owns Daniel’s Underwater Dive Service and hunts these lobsters every season. “I usually go between midnight and three in the morning because they’re often feeding at that time. They’re walking all around — near and around the rocks.”
Gleich is one of many local divers who go out every year to get their limit and treat friends and family to a home-cooked lobster dinner.
“We ate lobster for two weeks straight last year,” he said. “We got some really big ones.”
Gleich, like many other divers, navigates through the rocky underworld equipped with a bag and a bright light, gliding along the bottom, surveying the floor for a crawling lobster.
Once the light hits a critter, he’ll often stop in his tracks.
“The light sort of hypnotizes them,” said Gleich. “They just stand still and I grab them from the back, making sure not to touch their antenna because that’s how they feel what’s around them.”
For the non-diver, lobstering is about mastering the hoop net techniques, and like any other real estate game, it’s location, location, location. But in addition to the perfect spot, it’s about a given night’s particular characteristics.
“I’ve had the best success when there’s no moon out and there’s a slight swell that stirs up the bottom,” said longtime lobsterman David Kirby, who has conducted seminars on the subject.
“A plus or minus tide is something pretty extreme where everything is moving down below.”
Once a spot has been chosen, the nets get dropped and checked often.
In intervals as frequent as every 15 minutes, the traps are pulled up and checked, with hopeful fishermen anxious for the sight of a legal-size lobster in the net.
“During prime times, we’ve gone out and got our limit —seven lobsters per person is the daily legal limit — and been back in by nine o’clock. That’s a nice evening.” said Kirby.
“But some of those nights you could do 200 pulls, be out until two o’clock in the morning and come home with two. It can be frustrating, especially when your paying $1.75 a mackerel.”
The sport is without doubt a hit-or-miss affair.
Gleich recounts a recent experience when he got his limit almost immediately.
“It took me about 30 or 40 minutes to get seven of them,” he says. “But that’s a really, really good day. It doesn’t usually happen that fast.”
As the season progresses, the stock gets somewhat wiped out and the opportunity for big lobsters and quantity limits regresses, but the amount of lobstering reduces as the season wears on, so there is a balance.
Once March 22nd arrives, lobster season will be over and the spiny little creatures will again be free to crawl the ocean’s floor for another six months without the worry of being scooped up or grabbed from behind.
But until then, they are a readily attainable delicacy available to anyone who wants to take a short boat ride outside the harbor’s boundaries and throw out a net.