SANTA ROSA — California’s Fish and Game Commission hopes being proactive about how commercial fishermen and recreational divers interact with spiny lobsters would prevent the species from being overfished and threatened into extinction.
Commissioners approved the Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan (FMP) on April 13, changing the rules of how and when the crustacean species is caught. The FMP, state officials hoped, would be adaptive to allow the growing amount of recreational lobster divers to continue hunting for spiny bugs but also strict enough to sustain the fishery for future generations.
If all goes as planned the FMP would be implemented beginning the 2017-2018 lobster season.
“The goal of this FMP is to formalize a management strategy that can respond effectively to changes in the California lobster fisheries pursuant to the tenets of the MLMA. California lobsters have long supported major commercial and recreational fisheries, and the species plays a key role in maintaining the health of the Southern California kelp forest ecosystem,” a summary of the FMP stated.
Changes include pushing the start time of the recreational start time to 6 a.m., instead of 12:01 a.m., on the opening Saturday, punching a hole into the tail of a caught lobster, adjusting the recreational bag limit, and extending how long the lobster season remains closed.
Whether lobsters could be measured aboard a boat, the lack of sufficient data of the recreational fishery collected by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), potential damage to kelp forests by the setting of lobster traps, how to prevent whale entanglements were among some of the concerns expressed to the commission about the FMP.
The California spiny lobster fishery is unusual in that it supports both an important commercial fishery and significant recreational take. The Department is committed to maintaining traditional differences in allocation and function between the recreational and commercial fisheries,” DFW staff stated. “The department is aware of the need for more data on the recreational fishery and will seek opportunities to implement additional recreational data collection methods.”
California began looking into developing a plan to sustain the spiny lobster fishery in 2012. The species has been hunted off the coast between Pt. Conception and the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego since the 1800s, according to the FMP.
A stock assessment of the species in 2011 found the local spiny lobster population is, according to DFW staff, “at a sustainable level.”
“Biological sustainability of the stock is attributed to multiple factors. Chief among them is likely the minimum legal size for the CA lobster fisheries, which is larger than the size at which individuals reach sexual maturity,” the FMP stated. “The number of sub-legal-size lobsters caught by commercial fishermen has increased in recent years, which suggests that the current size limit is effective, and that a sizable number of sublegal-size lobsters are present in the wild and contributing to reproduction.”
The FMP stated recreational lobster catches have increased during the past seven years but exact data of how much of the fishery is caught annually is not available.
Recreational lobster hunting, which lasts about 25 weeks along the Southern California coast, contributes up to $40 million to the California economy each year, according to the FMP.