New Regulations for Recreational Lobster Fishing, Report Card Results Available

diver with lobster
Divers looking to take spiny lobster will want to review new regulations for this season. CDFW photo by D. Stein

As the popular recreational California spiny lobster season prepares to open on Saturday, Sept. 30, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds divers and hoop netters of new regulations that will be in effect for the 2017-2018 season. The California Fish and Game Commission adopted commercial and recreational lobster fishing regulations at its April 2016 meeting to support the implementation of the California Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan. A summary of the new recreational lobster fishing regulations is provided below. All other recreational lobster fishing regulations remain unchanged and in effect:

The 2017-2018 recreational lobster fishing season will open at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 30, 2017. The start time of the recreational lobster fishing season has changed from 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. for safety purposes. According to the California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 14, Section 29.90(a), the open season runs “…from 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.”.

Hoop net buoys south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County) must now be marked for identification and enforcement purposes. According to CCR Title 14, Section 29.80(b)(3), “Hoop nets used south of Point Arguello shall be marked with a surface buoy. The surface buoy shall be legibly marked to identify the operator’s GO ID number as stated on the operator’s sport fishing license or lobster report card.”

Shared hoop nets can be marked with multiple GO ID numbers, or GO ID numbers can be switched out by using any sort of removable tag on or attached to the buoy, so long as the GO ID numbers are all legible.

Section 29.80(b)(3) further states that “Hoop nets deployed by persons on shore or manmade structures connected to the shore are not required to be marked with a surface buoy.”

Hoop nets deployed from Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels (party or charter boats) must be marked with the boat’s Fish & Game Vessel ID number, and hoop nets provided by licensed guides to clients must be marked with the guide’s license number.

Divers may be in possession of spearfishing equipment while diving for crustaceans (including lobsters). Regulations for possessing a hooked device while taking lobster have changed to provide greater clarity. According to CCR Title 14, Section 29.80(g), “When diving for crustaceans in all ocean waters (except as provided in CCR Title 14, Section 29.05), skin and scuba divers may take crustaceans by the use of the hands only. Divers may not possess any hooked device while diving or attempting to dive. Divers may be in possession of spearfishing equipment so long as possession of such equipment is otherwise lawful and is not being used to aid in the take of crustaceans.”

lobster in hoop net
New hoopnetting regulations for spiny lobster are in effect for the upcoming season. CDFW photo by T. Buck

Measuring requirements have been clarified to allow measuring lobster aboard a boat. The change will allow hoop netters to bring spiny lobster aboard a vessel where they can be measured safely. According to CCR Title 14, Section 29.90(c), “All lobsters shall be measured immediately and any undersize lobster shall be released immediately into the water. Divers shall measure lobsters while in the water and shall not remove undersized lobsters from the water. Hoop netters may measure lobsters out of the water, but no undersize lobster may be placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person or retained in any person’s possession or under his or her direct control.”

The new regulations are included in the 2017-2018 California Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklets, available wherever sport fishing licenses are sold, at your local CDFW office, and online.

Lobster Report Card Data Available on CDFW Website
The purpose of the recreational lobster report card is to monitor the lobster catch, fishing effort, and gear used in the recreational fishery. Although CDFW has considerable information about the commercial lobster fishery from landing receipts and logbooks, CDFW had very little reliable information on the recreational lobster fishery until lobster report cards were introduced in 2008.

Summaries of lobster report card data from 2008 to the present are available online. The average catch per trip is still approximately two lobsters, a figure that has not changed since 2008.

The recreational lobster fishery includes two relatively independent groups of fishermen: hoop netters and divers. Together, their effect on the lobster resource appears to be considerable. CDFW sells approximately 33,000 lobster report cards every season, and since 2012 the recreational lobster harvest has accounted for 25 to 32 percent of all lobster harvest in California.

The information collected from the cards provides CDFW with data necessary to monitor and manage California’s spiny lobster fishery. Please remember to return your cards or submit the data online by April 30, 2018, as required by law.

  • The cards must be reported even if no lobsters were taken or no attempts were made to take lobsters.
  • If you purchase multiple spiny lobster report cards, report all of your cards, including lost cards, to avoid the non-return fee when purchasing a spiny lobster report card next lobster fishing season.
  • CDFW highly recommends reporting online and saving your confirmation number. The website can be found printed on the card.
  • If you mail your cards, use tracking to ensure delivery.
  • Card holders should review their report cards carefully and check that the information recorded is complete and accurate.

For additional information and a list of frequently asked questions about this program, please visit CDFW’s California Spiny Lobster web page.


post by Travis Buck, CDFW Environmental Scientist