Tips for California Spiny Lobster Season

Robert Arak in Scubatude Blog
on Oct 09, 2018 |

Tips for California Spiny Lobster Season

The California Spiny Lobster is different from its east cost cousin. While the east coast American Lobsters have large front claws, the California Spiny Lobsters do not.

Spiny lobster play an important role in our kelp forest and rocky reef systems. They feed on sea urchins, mussels, and other invertebrates. Our California lobsters are on the menu of sheephead, cabezon, horn sharks, leopard sharks, octopuses, and moray eels.
Lobsters must shed their outer shells (exoskeletons) to grow. This will occur about 40 times, over 7 to 10 years, before a lobster is a legal size to hunt. They can live 50 to 75 years.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife recently adopted California’s spiny lobster fishery management plan (FMP) to ensure that the fishery is sustainable for both the commercial and recreational sectors, while keeping the Southern California lobster population healthy and thriving.
Here is a summary of the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) recreational lobster fishing regulations. Check the DFW website or sport-fishing guide for detailed regulations:
  • All recreational lobster fishermen 16 years old and older must have a valid sport fishing license.
  • All recreational lobster fishermen (regardless of age) must have a spiny lobster report card in their possession while fishing for lobster or assisting in fishing for lobster. Report cards must be reported online at by April 30, following the close of lobster season.
  • A $21.60 non-return fee will be charged when purchasing a spiny lobster report card if the previous year’s report card is not returned or reported by the April 30 deadline. To avoid the fee, you may either return or report your card by the deadline, or skip one lobster fishing season. After skipping one season, you can purchase a spiny lobster report card the following season at no extra cost.
  • The recreational catch limit is seven lobster, and no more than one daily bag limit of seven can be taken or possessed at any time. (You cannot have more than seven lobster per angler at home at any given time).
  • Minimum size limit is 3.25 inch carapace length (measuring from the rear of the eye socket between the horns to the back of the body shell, or carapace). You must carry a lobster gauge to accurately measure catch. All undersize lobster must be released immediately after measurement.
  • Do not tail your lobster. Separating the tail from the head makes it impossible to determine whether the lobster is legal size or not, so the lobster must be landed whole.
  • Open lobster recreation season runs from the Saturday before the first Wednesday in October, through the first Wednesday after March 15.
  • Lobster can only be taken by hand or hoop net, and recreational fishermen are limited to no more than five hoop nets/person and vessels may not carry more than 10 hoop nets. When fishing from land, fishermen are limited to two hoop nets.
  • Interference with commercial traps or recreational hoop nets is prohibited.
Hunting California Spiny Lobsters is not easy, and requires advanced diver training, experience, and skills. Because lobster are most active at night, recreational fishing for them largely occurs in the dark.

Here are a few tips to stay safe while lobster fishing:

  • NEVER DIVE ALONE! Always dive with a buddy, and keep him or her close. There should be a hunter and a safety diver in every dive team. You can change role on each dive if you like, but there should always be a safety diver with their eye on the hunter, while the hunter eyes the lobsters.
  • Don’t dive at night in areas you are unfamiliar with. If you’d like to try a new spot, check it out during the day first to familiarize yourself before heading out at night.
  • Watch the weather and ocean conditions. Winds and surge can threaten boats and divers, especially near rocky areas and close to shore.
  • Have a good primary light, and carry good back-up light. If diving at night, a tank marker is a good idea.
  • Keep your training and experience current. Diving only once a year, during lobster season, is not enough to keep your diving skills sharp.
  • Make sure your equipment is inspected, serviced, and in proper working order.