Traditionally, the majority of legal lobsters are caught during the first few weeks of the season. The water is still warm enough to free dive for bugs, the days are still long and the weather is still pleasant enough to draw anglers.
This is the time of year when I start getting calls from divers and fishermen who've run afoul of California's complicated fishing laws. If you're going to hit the water in search of those delicious bugs this season, keep a few rules in mind. By learning and practicing these basic commandments, you might save yourself from a costly citation, a day in court, and a criminal record. A violation of any fishing regulation may be treated as a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for most of these violations includes 6 months in jail, high fines, probation, loss of fishing privileges and and forfeiture of your gear. Prosecutors take these cases seriously. You should, too.
- Carry a valid California sport fishing license with salt water endorsement AND a spiny lobster report card. These documents must be in your immediate possession while you are fishing or taking lobster. If you are diving from a boat, you may leave the licenses on the boat. If you are diving from shore, you must leave the licenses within 500 yard from your point of entry.
- Fill out your lobster report card BEFORE you begin fishing. If you are approached by wardens from the California Dept of Fish & Wildlife (formerly, Fish & Game), they will inspect your report card. If the date and location has not already been filled in, you will be cited.
- Use an approved lobster gauge and measure carefully. A legal lobster must measure at least 3.25" from the eye socket to the rear of the carapace, along a line parallel to the center of the body shell. A proper lobster gauge should be made of a rigid material, like metal or hard plastic, and not a soft tape measure. A soft tape measure will follow the curvature of the lobster's shell and may cause undersized lobsters to falsely appear legal. Don't fudge it. Fish & Wildlife wardens will not be fooled, they will not give you "the benefit of the doubt", they will not issue warnings, and they will not do you any favors. When in doubt, throw it out.
Here's a photo that demonstrates the proper technique for measuring a spiny lobster. This bug is clearly undersized:
- Lobsters may be taken by hand or by hoop net only. No traps allowed except with a commercial license. If you snag one while bottom fishing, you must toss it back.
- Lobsters must be whole / "in measurable condition" when they are brought ashore. If you remove the tails at sea, Fish & Wildlife wardens on the docks cannot verify that the bugs are the legal length. You will be cited if you come ashore with a cooler full of lobster tails, or if wardens board your boat at sea and discover immeasurable lobsters.
- Check an up-to-date map to ensure that you're not fishing in a protected area. The ocean off Southern California is home to 50 different "Marine Protected Areas", including "Marine Reserves", "Marine Conservation Areas" and "Special Closures". Each of these areas is governed by specific rules and regulations regarding what (if anything) may be taken or pursued within its designated boundaries. The areas are not marked by signs, so anglers are responsible for studying their maps.
If you or a loved one is cited for any fishing violation in Southern California, call the office with the experience and knowledge to ensure that you get the best result possible. Free consultations. (714) 449-3335.
Thanks for reading.