Recreational spiny lobster season in Southern California officially starts at one minute after midnight Sept. 29. New South Coast Region Marine Protected Area regulations enacted this year have limited the areas where lobster can be taken, so check the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) website — dfg.ca.gov — for complete information on MPAs and current rules.
A new spiny lobster Fishery Management Plan (FMP) is currently being developed. According to the DFG, it is moving forward with development of an FMP for California spiny lobster — as required by the Marine Life Management Act — because the lobster supports important commercial and recreational fisheries and plays a key role in the Southern California kelp forest ecosystem.
“With the implementation of new Marine Protected Areas in Southern California in 2012, the spiny lobster FMP will need to evaluate how MPAs might be incorporated into the management of the state’s lobster fisheries,” the DFG said in a statement on its website. “DFG is committed to making the process transparent, objective and accessible to all, with the ultimate goal of completing an adaptable FMP that will ensure a sustainable lobster resource and healthy fisheries.”
If you’re planning on going after lobsters this season, you’ll need to have the proper permits and lobster report cards, in addition to the right gear. Regulations require anglers to check hoop nets at least every two hours, and they define types of permitted hoop nets.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked lobster season questions from the California Department of Fish and Game:
Q. What are the legal methods of take for spiny lobster?
A. According to Sections 29.80(a) and (b) of Title 14, California Code of Regulations, spiny lobsters may only be taken by hand or by hoop net. You cannot use any other devices to take or assist in taking lobster – this includes “tickle sticks” or other similar appliances used to coax a lobster from its hiding spot.
Q. Can a sport fisherman use traps to take lobster?
A. No. As stated above, lobsters may only be taken by hand or by hoop net: Traps may not be used. Lobsters that are taken incidentally on hook and line while fishing for finfish must be returned to the water immediately.
Q. How many hoop nets can I use on my boat?
A. According to Section 29.80(b) T14, CCR, not more than five baited hoop nets may be fished by a person, not to exceed a total of 10 hoop nets fished from any vessel, regardless of how many people are aboard.
Q. How many hoop nets can I use while fishing from a public pier?
A. You may use up to two appliances (rod and reel, hoop net, etc.) while fishing from a public pier – two rods and reels, or one rod and reel and one hoop net, or two hoop nets. Reference Section 28.65(b) T14, CCR.
Q. Regulations state that “spiny lobsters shall be kept in a whole, measurable condition until being prepared for immediate consumption.” What is the definition of “immediate consumption?”
A. “Prepared for immediate consumption” means cooked and on a plate, ready to be eaten immediately. Or, in the case of sushi, it means ready to be eaten immediately raw on a dinner plate. Here are some ways to preserve lobster in a whole, measurable condition until you arrive home:
Place the lobster in a container with some ice where the melting ice water can drain out of the container and not drown the lobster. Alternately, wrap/cover the lobster loosely in a moist, saltwater-soaked towel. Using either of these methods, the lobster can be enjoyed fresh at home, or frozen.
For driving long distances, consider putting them in a wood box with wood shavings. Lobsters are imported from Mexico this way and last a surprisingly long time. Alternately, use ice packs in a cooler. Lobsters may be left overnight with the cooler lid cracked and are still quite alive in the morning.
(Ref. Section 29.90(e))
Q. May I tail my legally harvested lobsters while still at sea or at the boat launch ramp?
A. No. California Fish and Game Code Section 5508 states “It is unlawful to possess on any boat or bring ashore any fish upon which a size or weight limit is prescribed in such a condition that the size or weight cannot be determined.” Separating the tail from the carapace (body) makes it impossible to determine if the lobster was of legal size; the animal must remain whole until you are ready to cook it. If cooking for immediate consumption while at sea, retain the carapace until the tail is consumed.
Q. Is there a limit to the number of spiny lobster report cards I can buy?
A. No. Unlike abalone and sturgeon report cards, there is currently no limit on the number of lobster report cards one can purchase.
Q. Am I required to have the spiny lobster report card in possession when I’m fishing for spiny lobsters?
A. Yes. All individuals must have a spiny lobster report card in their possession while fishing for or taking lobster, or assisting in fishing for lobster. In the case of a person diving from a boat, the report card may be kept in the boat. In the case of a person diving from the shore, the report card may be kept within 500 yards from the point of entry.
Q. Where and when do I submit the card once it’s filled out?
A. Completed cards should be dropped off or mailed to the address specified on the report card by Jan. 31 of the following year.
Q. Are there any additional restrictions not listed in the DFG regulations, concerning recreational spiny lobster take in specific areas?
A. You may want to check with local authorities (for example, the harbormaster in the area where you wish to take lobster) regarding any additional restrictions on lobster fishing in harbors. Local authorities have the right to restrict certain activities in these areas in the interest of public safety. Such authorities cannot impose rules that are more lenient than state fishing regulations, but they may impose more stringent restrictions regarding access, for example, in certain high traffic areas if they have concerns about the public’s well being caused by fishing activity in a given area.
Q. Do kids younger than 16 need a spiny lobster report card, too?
A. Yes, if they are fishing for, taking or assisting with fishing for spiny lobster.
Q. What is the minimum size limit for spiny lobster, and how do I measure a lobster?
A. The minimum size limit for recreational fishermen is 3.25 inches, measured in a straight line on the midline of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell.
Q. What is the daily bag limit for lobster — and what is the possession limit?
A. According to Section 29.90(b) T14, CCR, the daily recreational bag limit is seven lobsters per person. Additionally, Section 1.17 states that no more than one daily bag limit may be taken or possessed by any one person unless otherwise authorized (see Declaration for Multi-Day Fishing Trip, Section 27.15 T14, CCR), regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen or otherwise preserved. This means that if you have a limit of seven lobsters at home, you cannot go out and get more lobsters until the first limit is disposed of in some way (for instance, eaten or given away).