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Invertebrates of Interest: California Spiny Lobster

California's coastal waters are home to a multitude of invertebrates (species lacking a bony skeleton). A small fraction of these, including California spiny lobster, are actually targeted by California's recreational and commercial fisheries. This page contains information about spiny lobster identification, biology, habitat, geographic range, fishing methods, and more.


California Spiny Lobster Resources



Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any new or changed regulations for the 2016-17 season?

 There are no new or changed recreational lobster fishing regulations for the 2016-17 lobster fishing season.

When does recreational lobster season start and end?

Recreational lobster season runs from the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March. Here are the dates for the next 2 seasons:        

  • Saturday, October 1, 2016 through Wednesday, March 22, 2017
  • Saturday, September 30, 2017 through Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reference Section 29.90(a) T14, CCR.

When does recreational lobster season "technically" start - the actual time it opens?

Recreational lobster season opens at 12:00:01 AM on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday of October and closes at 12:00:00 AM on the first Wednesday (night) after the 15th of March.

What is the daily bag limit for lobster? The possession limit?

According to CCR T14, Section 29.90(b), 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 (eaten, given away, etc).

What is the minimum size limit for spiny lobster, and how do I measure a lobster?

The minimum size limit for California spiny lobster is three and one-fourth 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.

View a lobster measurement diagram online.
Reference Section 29.90(c) Title 14, California Code of Regulations (CCR).

Am I required to have a lobster gauge when I go fishing for lobster? Can I use a tape measure or a ruler?

Every person while taking lobster (or other invertebrates which have a minimum size limit) shall carry a device which is capable of accurately measuring the size of the lobster. Due to the curvature of the lobster's carapace and the measurement method described above, a tape measure or ruler is not capable of measuring the size of the lobster accurately; a gauge with a fixed span works best. Reference Section 29.05(c) T14, CCR.

When should I measure the lobster I catch?

Any lobster may be brought to the surface of the water for the purpose of measuring, but no undersized lobster may be brought aboard any boat, placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person or retained in any person's possession or under his direct control; all lobsters shall be measured immediately upon being brought to the surface of the water, and any undersized lobster shall be released immediately. Reference Section 29.90(c) T14, CCR.

May I tail my legally harvested lobsters while still at sea or at the boat launch ramp?

No. Spiny lobsters shall be kept in a whole, measurable condition, until being prepared for immediate consumption. Reference CCR T14, Section 29.90(e)

What are the legal methods of take for spiny lobster? Can I use a "tickle stick" to coax a lobster from its hiding spot?

Can a sport fisherman use traps to take lobster? What about lobsters that are taken on hook and line while fishing for finfish?

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 sea immediately. For the legal definition of a hoop net, see CCR T14, Section 29.80(b)(1) in the annual California Ocean Fishing Sport Fishing regulation booklet.

How many hoop nets can I use on my boat?

According to CCR T14, Section 29.80(b) not more than 5 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.

How many hoop nets can I use while fishing from a public pier?

You may use up to two appliances (rod and reel, hoop net, etc.) while fishing from a public pier - two rods and reels, or 1 rod and reel and 1 hoop net, or 2 hoop nets. Reference CCR T14, Section 28.65(b)

When did the requirement for filling out and submitting spiny lobster report cards go into effect?

Persons taking or trying to take lobster are required to possess, fill out and submit spiny lobster report cards starting September 27, 2008.

How much does the spiny lobster report card cost?

The 2014-2015 spiny lobster report card costs $9.22 when purchased from CDFW offices, and $9.46 when purchased from other vendors.

Where can I purchase a spiny lobster report card?

The spiny lobster report card should be available wherever you purchase your sport fishing license, including most tackle shops and some sporting goods stores, however some license agents may choose not to sell the card. You can also purchase spiny lobster report cards online.

An online list of CDFW license sales offices is also available.

What is the purpose of the spiny lobster report card?

The purpose of the reporting requirement is to monitor recreational spiny lobster catch, fishing effort and the gear used in the recreational fishery. Although CDFW has considerable information about the commercial lobster fishery from landing receipts and logbooks, CDFW has very little reliable information on the magnitude of the recreational lobster catch and fishing effort.

Do kids under 16 need a spiny lobster report card too?

Yes, if they are fishing for, taking, or assisting with fishing for spiny lobster.

Is there a limit to the number of spiny lobster report cards I can buy?

No. Unlike abalone and sturgeon report cards, there is currently no limit on the number of lobster report cards one can purchase. Cards must be in the card user's name.

If purchasing cards for children under 16, provide the parent's ID, but children's names should be on their own cards. To purchase a license or report card for an adult who is not present, provide any previous license or other official document issued to the licensee, or the recipient's personal information (name, DOB, CDL or other ID number, etc).

Am I required to have the spiny lobster report card in possession when I'm fishing for spiny lobsters?

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, including children under the age of 16. 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.

How do I fill out my lobster report card?

Instructions can be found on the card. Record the month, day, location, and gear code on the first available line on the card. When you are done fishing at that location, when you switch gear, or when you are done fishing for the day, record the number of lobster kept, then move to the next available line on the card. Use separate lines on the card for each location fished and each gear type used.

Where and when do I submit the card once it's filled out?

You can report online. 2016-17 full season cards are due back to CDFW by April 30, 2017, and can be reported online or mailed to the address below. There is a $21.60 non-return fee. Fishermen can avoid the non-return fee by returning their cards by the due date, or by sitting out one fishing season.

Lobster report cards can also be dropped off or mailed to the address specified on the report card by the deadline, which is also specified on the card:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Lobster Report Card
3883 Ruffin Rd.
San Diego, CA 92123

What will CDFW do with the additional income generated from the sales of spiny lobster report cards? Will it be used for anything to do with lobster?

The funds can be used to support any CDFW project, including those specifically focused on lobster.

Are there any additional restrictions not listed in CDFW regulations, concerning recreational spiny lobster take in specific areas?

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, etc. 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.

If I'm fishing for crab from a public pier and I'm NOT fishing for spiny lobster, do I still need the lobster report card?

If you're not fishing for spiny lobster, you do not need to purchase a spiny lobster report card. By the same token, if you catch spiny lobster while fishing for rock crab, you cannot keep spiny lobster if you do not have a spiny lobster report card in your possession.

I'm a scuba diver and a kayak fisherman. I want to use a hoop net this season, and bring my scuba gear on the kayak at the same time. Another diver told me it was illegal to have more than one type of hunting device on the kayak (hoop net and scuba). Is this statement correct?

It is legal to carry hoop nets and scuba gear aboard your kayak when hunting for spiny lobster south of Yankee Pt. (Monterey County). Section 29.05(d) prohibits the use of scuba north of Yankee Pt. for all invertebrates except sea urchins, rock scallops and crabs of the genus Cancer. South of Yankee Pt. you can use and possess scuba gear and hoop nets simultaneously on your kayak when hunting lobster.

While scuba gear is not illegal to carry aboard a kayak, remember that it is currently illegal to use or possess any hooked devices while diving or attempting to dive for crustaceans. Spearfishing gear, specifically the spear, could be considered a hooked device. A game warden would make the final determination of this when checking your gear.

Even though you may intend to use a spear only for spearing fish and not as a tool to assist in persuading a shy lobster to come out of its cozy cave or crevice, you should probably do your spearfishing and lobster diving on separate dives.

My son is 15 years old and will fish with me this year. We both have our report cards. Does he have to carry his own catch? Or can I be in possession of more than my legal 7 "bugs"?

I have heard about a spiny lobster brochure. Where can I find one?

You can find the new "Reporting Your Catch" brochure, which contains a summary of information about the new lobster report card as well as lobster fishery management, at select CDFW offices in coastal Southern California and online. Another brochure detailing California spiny lobster biology, regulations, and fishing is also available online

How big and how old do California spiny lobsters get?

It is believed California spiny lobsters live 50 years or more. There are records of male California spiny lobster weighing over 26 pounds and attaining lengths up to three feet. Today, lobsters over five pounds are considered trophy-sized. More information on spiny lobster biology is available online.

I heard about a Lobster Fishery Management Plan that is currently underway. Where can I find more information?

I've captured a lobster with a tag attached to it. What should I do?

There are various programs that have tagged lobsters in southern California. A unique identification code (tag number) and phone number (or website) can be found printed on most tags, which are usually small colored strips of plastic inserted into the underside or back of the lobster. Researchers are interested in learning about the movement and growth of individual lobsters. It is important to record the date, location where the lobster was caught (GPS coordinates are best, but distance to a recognized landmark will work if you don't have a GPS), as well as the carapace length of the lobster (to the nearest millimeter if possible), and the tag number. All four pieces of information: date, location, length, and tag number, are important when reporting a tagged lobster.

In 2011 and 2012, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, San Diego Oceans Foundation, San Diego State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography teamed with lobster fishermen and volunteers to collaborate on a project to tag and monitor thousands of lobster in southern California. Reporting tagged lobsters will assist this study in examining current levels of lobster abundance, size composition of the population, and movement and growth of individuals over time. For more information, or to report a lobster tagged with a blue, yellow, or green tag, please visit: www.taggedlobster.com.

Lobsters may be brought to the surface to measure. If the lobster is under legal size and is tagged, quickly record the number on the tag and immediately release the lobster. No undersize lobster, even if it is tagged, may be brought aboard a boat, placed in any type of receiver, or retained in any manner. Do not remove tags from any short lobsters.



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Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
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CA spiny lobster ventures from its den. CDFW photo by Derek Stein.


Return your lobster report cards by April 30 following the season closure to:

CDFW
Lobster Report Card
3883 Ruffin Rd.
San Diego, CA 92123

You can also submit harvest data online .