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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 5:47 am | Fair 50º


Outdoors Q&A: Why the Late Start Time for Lobster Opener?

Change designed to decrease boating, diving accidents that happen in dark

Diver displays a California spiny lobster.
Diver displays a California spiny lobster. (Courtesy photo)

Question: I’m going lobster diving with some friends on opening day this Saturday. I heard there was a change to the time we can get into the water? What is going on? (Daniel, San Diego)

Answer: The California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.90, states that the open season for spiny lobsters runs “… from 6 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.”

You are right, that is a change in the start time. The California Fish and Game Commission amended the regulations to start lobster season at 6 a.m. on opening day, instead of the previously opening time of just after midnight.

Wildlife officers have frequently responded to lobster diving- and boating-related accidents over the years, which have unfortunately included fatalities.

Incidents include divers in distress and subsequent rescues, divers almost being run over by boat-based lobster fishermen, boat-based fishermen rescuing distressed divers and boaters hitting submerged objects in the dark.

There have also been many incidents of both inexperienced and experienced divers losing gear. The commissioners amended the start time to reduce the frequency of accidents and possibly save lives, with no significant reduction in lobster fishing quality.

The new 6 a.m. season start time is only for the opening day, and will spread the initial recreational fishing effort across an entire day and night as opposed to bottlenecking the effort right at midnight.

As in previous lobster openers, there is absolutely no take or attempt to take of lobsters allowed prior to the start time. This includes baiting your hoop net and placing it into the water before 6 a.m.

We expect a safer, more orderly fishery opener for both divers and boat-based fishermen, as well as improved enforceability due to better visibility during the early morning opener. We wish you a safe and enjoyable dive — and hopefully a fresh lobster dinner at the end of it all.

Measuring lobsters safely

Q: I use a hoop net to catch lobsters. Is there a change to the regulations to allow me to measure my lobsters on the pier? (Robert M., Oceanside)

A: In response to safety concerns over lobster fishermen pulling up hoop nets and leaning over the boat in an attempt to measure lobsters at the surface of the water, the California Fish and Game Commission amended the regulations related to measuring lobster from a hoop net.

Lobster fishermen who use hoop nets are now authorized to bring lobster onto a boat, pier or platform from which they are fishing to immediately measure lobster from their hoop nets. Any sub-legal sized lobsters must still be returned immediately to the water after measuring.

Recreational lobster divers are still required to measure all lobster while in the water. It remains unlawful to hold onto undersized lobsters, leave them on the deck of your boat, or place any sub-legal sized lobster into any type of receptacle by either divers or hoop netters.

CCR Title 14, section 29.90 (c) states that the minimum size is 3¼ inches measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell.

Additionally, “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.”

For the rest of the regulations related to take of spiny lobsters, please see the rest of CCR Title 14, sections 29.90 and 29.91.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at [email protected].

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