[Coral-List] Question for Spiny Lobster Experts

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 18 17:31:52 EST 2006

This came up last fall and I was suprised to see it
come up again, I thought it had been dismissed. But
evidently not. I'm not an expert, but I did write a
book about spiny lobsters in the eary 90s, and I
follow the research and the fishery for spiny
lobsters. When moving the start of the season first
came up I wrote the below letter to the local press
(it was published last December) for the purpose of
informing the public, without being strident, as to
why it wasn't a good idea. It still isn't a good idea.
I've copied the letter below. You may find it of

Martin Moe

There’s a reason for the season, the lobster season,
that is….

There is a move afoot to advance the beginning of the
2006 commercial spiny lobster fishing season from
August 6 to July 10. This potential advance of the
opening of the season has gained the support of our
congressional delegation. The reason for the move is
to give this very important commercial fishing
industry, so hard hit by the storms of 2005, a well
deserved economic break. These are rough times for the
lobster fishery. In addition to the trap destruction
from the hurricanes, the fishery is besieged by
declining catches, a virus disease in juvenile
lobsters, increasing fuel prices, loss of fish houses
and affordable dockage to waterfront development, and
the basic economic pressures that affect all of us
here in the Keys. The lobster fishermen deserve a
break, that’s for sure, but is advancing the
beginning of the commercial fishing season the right
thing to do? Perhaps, but this could cause problems
and such a move should not be made without due
consideration of the possible negative results.

In theory, commercial and recreational fishing seasons
are established for management of the fishery based on
sound fishery science that will maintain a sustainable
natural resource and serve the best interests of the
public, the environment, and the fishery. However,
economic and political concerns are also a part of
fishery management and often economic issues trump the
good science of fishery management. 

Two of the strongest tools of fishery management are
size limits, and closed seasons. Size limits protect
breeding stocks and also function to bring the
resource to market at the size that will provide the
optimum economic yield to the fishery. Closed seasons
are based on scientific research to protect the
spawning process and also to allow new recruits into
the fishery to grow to a size that will allow at least
a first spawn and to achieve a size that will be most
profitable to the fishery. This is why, in many
fisheries, nets have a minimum size mesh and traps
have an escape gap which allow undersize fish and
invertebrates to escape capture.

There are four major concerns that should be
considered by fishery managers before advancing the
beginning of the commercial spiny lobster season.

1. Minimum size. A size limit on spiny lobster was
first set in 1929 at one pound. The minimum size was
changed in 1953 to a tail length of 6 inches (which
was a carapace length of 3 ¼ inches). In 1965 the
minimum size law was again changed to a tail length of
5 ½ inches and a carapace length of 3 inches. This
reduction in minimum size changed the entire fishery
for it opened up the smaller, younger lobster
populations in Florida Bay to the commercial fishery.
It also reduced protection of spawning stocks because
first spawning of spiny lobsters usually occurs at a
carapace length above 3 inches. Juvenile spiny
lobsters grow most rapidly in the summer months and
most young lobsters in July are just below the legal
size. Allowing commercial fishing to begin in early
July will greatly increase the number of short
lobsters taken in the fishery. These short lobsters
will, for the most part, be retained in traps in hopes
that they will molt and become of legal size by the
next time the trap is harvested. A newly molted
lobster in a trap has little protection during the
molt and during the soft shell phase right after molt
and may be subject to an increased risk of predation
and death while in the trap.  Thus beginning the
commercial season in early July may have the effect of
actually decreasing the number of lobsters taken to
market during the season.

2. The lobsters that survive the fishery are actively
spawning on the offshore reefs during July. Even
though it is illegal to take egg bearing female
lobsters at any time, capture of egg holding females
in traps disrupts the spawning process and can result
in loss of the spawn. And if the recreational dive
season begins at the same time as the opening of the
commercial season, disruption of females carrying eggs
would be major.

3. Beginning the commercial season in early July will
create additional conflicts with the recreational
lobster fishery. It would be politically and
economically difficult (and extremely difficult to
enforce) the delay of the recreational lobster season
to several weeks after the beginning of the commercial
season. The two day “mini season” would then have
to be changed to the first week of July or be held
ineffectively long after the start of the regular

4. Many commercial fishing interests would like to see
fishery management of Keys stocks conducted on multi
species basis to allow the most economically efficient
use of seasonal time. This would allow sequential
harvest of various stocks, lobster, stone crab,
mackerel, dolphin, etc., reducing temporal overlap of
fishing efforts on various species. An earlier start
to the lobster season would make sequential harvest of
Keys stocks much easier and there would be strong
pressure to permanently advance the opening of the
lobster season. The fact that we are now in a phase of
increased hurricane activity would also argue for
permanent advancement of the lobster season.

My point is not that the start of the commercial
lobster season should not be advanced in 2006. I just
want to point out that this is a complex proposal with
many biological, economic, social, and political
ramifications and it is not just a simple matter of
giving the commercial fishery a break, no matter how
well deserved or needed. Perhaps advancing the start
of the season would be a good thing, but there are
many factors and complications (many more than I have
advanced above) that fishery managers, the commercial
fishery, and politicians must consider before making
such a major decision, and the future of the South
Florida spiny lobster resource, along with the
immediate economic concerns of the commercial fishery,
should be a major part of the consideration.

Martin Moe

--- Dan Clark <reefteam2 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Question to Spiny Lobster Experts 
>   The State of Florida is considering a request by
> the spiny lobster trap industry to shorten the time
> that lobster season is closed for breeding. 
> Commercial harvest is  usually closed from April 1 -
> Aug. 5.
>   We have been diving here for decades and it has
> been our experience that we see a large number of
> egg bearing females during the month of August, the
> beginning of normal lobster season.  Although
> Florida law prohibits the harvest of egg bearing
> females, we have to question what impact the
> deployment of many thousands of traps 3 weeks
> earlier then the normal August 1 date will have upon
> the breeding population and egg bearing females.
> Could this have a cascading effect on future lobster
> stocks?
>   If their are any spiny lobster experts out there
> can we hear from you.
>   Review and discussion of a request from the spiny
> lobster trap industry to move the date of trap
> deployment from August 1, 2006 to July 10, 2006, and
> to move the beginning date for this year's
> commercial harvest of spiny lobster by traps from
> August 6, 2006 to July 15, 2006.  See
> http://myfwc.com/commission/2006/April/index.html
>   Dan Clark
>         Cry of the Water 
>   P.O. Box 8143 
>   Coral Springs, FL  33075
>   954-753-9737
>   www.cryofthewater.org
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

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