Lobster season brings enforcement


Captain Kidd’s salesperson Julian Alatorre holds up a Maine lobster (left) and a California lobster. Photo by David Rosenfeld

Commercial and recreational lobster seasons got underway in October as California Department of Fish and Game officers stepped up enforcement of illegal poaching.

Dan Sforza, acting assistant chief for the southern enforcement district, said while he did not have exact figures, officers write citations nightly for illegal lobster fishing from ports in Los Angeles, Ventura and Dana Point.

“We can generally go out on a nightly basis and find people not having the proper paperwork, not abiding by the bag limits or the size limits and not fishing in legal areas,” Sforza said.

In one case, officials were investigating a potential poaching incident in Abalone Cove. Lobster fishing can be especially fruitful off the coast of Palos Verdes where the skittish crustaceans can hide during the day among the rocks.

Lobster poaching typically takes place during the off-season, but there are a host of other violations that can occur from October through March during the actual season.

“Poaching runs the spectrum between people trying to catch lobsters out of season, going after short lobsters, poaching from no-take areas and then there’s sort of this user group conflict where commercial fishermen claim hoop-netters and divers poach lobsters out of their traps,” said Lia Protopapadakis, a project manager for the non-profit Bay Restoration Foundation.

Protopapadakis said taking undersized lobsters amounts to the biggest concern because it takes seven years for a lobster to reach legal size. Those smaller lobsters are needed to regenerate the population, she said.

Recreational fishers must use hoop nets or take lobsters by hand with diving gear. Commercial lobster fishing, which is barred within Santa Monica Bay, can use traps that retain the critters while allowing the smaller ones to escape.

At Captain Kidd’s in Redondo Beach, a live California spiny lobster this week was selling for $26.99. Commercial fishermen caught nearly 120,000 pounds of lobster worth more than $2 million last year out of ports from Long Beach to Marina Del Rey, according to DFG statistics. The Santa Monica Bay accounted for 17 percent of the state’s total recreational catch.

Katie Howe with Rancho Palos Verdes Parks and Recreation said the city received six calls so far to its ranger hotline reporting suspicious lobster fishing activity. Those calls are forwarded both to the local rangers that patrol RPV and the Department of Fish and Game.

“We’re especially interested in the tide pools and making sure people aren’t taking animals out of there,” Howe said.

Sforza said over the past 20 years the lobster fishery has been one of California’s most sustainable.

In recent years, officials have tried to get a better understanding of the sport fishing numbers. Toward that goal two years ago the agency instituted a lobster report card where fishermen must report their numbers to the state.

“Historically it seems like every fishery at some point declines. We’re not there and I’m not suggesting that here, but the fact we’ve instituted the lobster report card we’re being very proactive so that fishery stays sustainable.”

Sforza said despite stepped-up enforcement prosecutions are not always carried out in the courts to the extent the agency would like.

“Courts are so busy these days they don’t tend to look at a short lobster case and give it the same amount of energy they would a domestic abuse or some more serious crime.”

To report illegal lobster fishing call the RPV Ranger Hotline at 310-491-5775 or call the DFG’s Cal tip at 888-334-2258. ER


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