Recreational Lobster Fishing Information

California's coastal waters are home to a multitude of invertebrates (species lacking a bony skeleton). The California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) takes a particularly special place within this group as a highly sought-after target of both California's recreational and commercial fisheries.
(opens in new tab)California's coastal waters are home to a multitude of invertebrates (species lacking a bony skeleton). The California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) takes a particularly special place within this group as a highly sought-after target of both California's recreational and commercial fisheries.

For the most up to date California spiny lobster regulations, please consult the following links: gear allowances and requirements(opens in new tab), season, size and bag limit regulations(opens in new tab), and report card requirements(opens in new tab).

  • Recreational lobster season opens at 6:00 p.m. on the Friday preceding the first Wednesday in October and closes at 11:59:59 p.m. on the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.
  • Recreational Bag and Possession Limit: Seven lobsters per person.
  • Minimum Legal Size Limit: 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 (3¼ inch carapace). Please see the lobster measurement diagram (PDF)(opens in new tab) on how to measure your lobster.
  • Permit Requirements: CDFW Spiny Lobster Report Card and California recreational fishing license, available at CDFW's Online License Sales and Service. An Ocean Enhancement Validation is also required if fishing in ocean waters south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County), unless fishing under the authority of a one- or two-day California recreational fishing license.
  • Skin and Scuba Diver Gear Requirements: All skin and scuba divers must only use their hands to take lobster.
  • Pier Fishing Gear Requirements: You may use up to 2 hoop nets while fishing from a public pier.
  • Vessel Fishing Gear Requirements: You may possess up to 5 hoop nets while fishing from a vessel, but the total number of hoop nets from a vessel cannot exceed 10, even if there are more than 2 people on the boat.
  • Fishing Locations: See the CDFW Ocean Sport Fishing Interactive Web Map(opens in new tab).
  • Hoop Nets Prohibited 24 Hours Prior to the Season Opener: Hoop nets may not be deployed south of Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County during the 24 hours leading up to the recreational lobster season opener.

For more information, please consult General Ocean Invertebrate Fishing Regulations.

Season # Cards Sold # Cards Reported Report Rate # of Reported Cards that Did NOT Fish Reported Catch (# of Lobsters) Average # of Lobsters Kept per Card Estimated Total # of Trips Estimated Total Catch (# of Lobsters) Estimated Weight (lbs) Percent of Total Landings (Commercial + Recreational)
2014-15 36,414 19,698 54% 4,265 114,562 7.5 111,552 215,295 344,472 26%
2015-16 32,666 15,299 47% 3,760 76,378 6.7 82,511 165,847 265,355 25%
2016-17 30,762 15,442 50% 3,733 84,065 7.3 80,680 169,428 271,085 29%
2017-18 32,500 16,342 50% 3,944 85,212 7.0 85,653 171,821 274,914 29%
2018-19** 32,758 16,958 52% 4,003 98,127 7.7 72,122 154,929 247,886 22%**
2019-20 34,804 17,563 50% 4,222 106,742 8.1 77,940 170,171 272,274 26%
2020-21 45,726 21,874 48% 5,720 108,188 6.8 96,779 178,334 285,334 27%
2021-2022 35,475 16,901 48% 4,635 83,817 6.9 73,831 140,345 244,162 24%
 2022-2023 33,813 16,071 48% 4,461 92,795 8.1 68,980 154,621 247,394 20%

**Starting this season, a new method of estimating total recreational catch was employed based off a survey conducted in summer 2019. More details on this method can be found in the spiny lobster Enhanced Status Report and a full writeup can be downloaded (PDF)(opens in new tab).

2022-2023 Top 10 Locations (by percent of reported catch)

  1. Catalina Island (13.3%)
  2. San Diego Bay (12.9%)
  3. Point Vicente to King Harbor (6.2%)
  4. Santa Cruz Island (5.5%)
  5. Long Beach/Middle Breakwater (5.4%)
  6. Zuniga Jetty (3.6%)
  7. King Harbor to Santa Monica (3.1%)
  8. Santa Monica to Malibu Point (3.1%)
  9. Laguna Beach to Newport Beach (3.0%)
  10. Carlsbad to Oceanside (2.4%)

2022-2023 Catch by Gear Type (by percent of reported catch)

  1. Rigid Hoop Net (40.9%)
  2. Free Diving (26.1%)
  3. Scuba Diving (26.0%)
  4. Traditional Hoop Net (7.0%)

2022-2023 Catch per Unit Effort by Gear Type (average number of lobsters per trip)

  1. Scuba Diving (3.6 lobsters/trip)
  2. Free Diving (2.3 lobsters/trip)
  3. Rigid Hoop Net (2.3 lobsters/trip)
  4. Traditional Hoop Net (1.6 lobsters/trip)

CDFW Scientific Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

The regulation states that the season opens at 6:00 p.m. On opening day, can I put my hoop nets in the water at 5 p.m. and pull them an hour later at 6 p.m.?

You may not. Pursuant to 14 CCR Section 29.80, you cannot deploy hoop nets within the 24-hr period immediately prior to the start of the recreational lobster season. Hoop nets cannot be deployed from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday to 5:59 p.m. on the Friday preceding the first Wednesday in October.

If I'm sharing hoop nets with a friend or several friends on my boat, do all of our GO ID numbers need to be on the buoys, or can I just have one GO ID number on each of the buoys?

The regulation limits each person to 5 hoop nets total and 10 hoop nets per vessel if two or more people are present on that vessel (14 CCR Section 29.80(b)). Every hoop net must have a surface buoy marked with at least one hoop net operator's (person deploying and/or pulling hoop nets) GO ID number (14 CCR Section 29.80(b)(3)). Please note that hoop nets deployed from commercial passenger fishing vessels need to be marked instead with that vessel's registration number, and hoop nets provided by a licensed guide must be marked with the guide's guide license number.

How many hoop nets can I use on my boat?

According to CCR T14, Section 29.80(b) you can possess at most 5 hoop nets when taking spiny lobster or crab, not to exceed a total of 10 hoop nets  per vessel.

When should I measure the lobster I catch?

All lobsters must be measured immediately, and any undersize lobster must be released immediately into the water. Divers must measure lobsters while in the water and undersize lobsters cannot be removed from the water. Hoop netters must measure lobsters immediately upon removal from the water. No undersize lobster may be placed in any type of receiver, bag, or any other type of container; no undersize lobster may be kept on the person or retained in any person's possession or under his or her direct control. Reference Section 29.90(c) T14, 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.

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

How much does the spiny lobster report card cost?

The current price of a spiny lobster report card can be found at the CDFW Sport Fishing Licenses and Report Cards page. When purchasing a report card from a vendor other than CDFW, a small (~2%) surcharge may apply.

How do I fill out my lobster report card?

You can find instructions on the card. Before placing a hoop net into the water or entering the ocean to take spiny lobster, you must record the month, day, location, and gear code on the first available line on the card (14 CCR 29.91(b)). When you are done fishing at that location or when you are done fishing for the day, record the number of lobster(s) 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 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?

Your data help us track the recreational spiny lobster catch, fishing effort and the gear used in the recreational fishery. Unlike commercial catch, CDFW had very little reliable information on the magnitude of the recreational lobster catch and fishing effort prior to the lobster report card.

If I am fishing for lobster with friend(s), do we all need our own lobster report cards?

Yes, the regulation requires every person fishing for or assisting with the take of lobster to have their own report card (14 CCR Section 29.91(a)). Individuals present on a trip but not fishing do not need a report card, just make sure that they are not helping with the fishing process in any way.

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 no limit on the number of lobster report cards you can purchase. Cards must be in the card user's name. Remember to report all cards purchased to avoid the non-return fee the following season.

Children under the age of 16 must also have their own report cards, and a parent’s ID must be provided during purchase. 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.

Do I need a spiny lobster report card when fishing for lobster on a free fishing day?

Yes (14 CCR Section 29.91).

Do I have to start a new line on my report card when nighttime fishing spans 2 calendar days?

Yes. The regulation requires everyone to record the month, day, location, and gear code on a single line of a report card before you start diving (14 CCR Section 29.91). If your fishing might go over midnight and span two days, please fill in two lines to represent two days. Your effort will provide us with valuable information that we need to better manage our fishery.

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

Lobster report cards can be dropped off or mailed to the address specified on the report card by April 30 after each season:

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

You can also report online at: Sport Fishing Licenses and Report Cards page

If your card is not reported OR reported late, you will be required to pay a non-return fee when you purchase your card for the following season. You can avoid the non-return fee by returning lobster report cards by the due date, or by sitting out one lobster fishing season.

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

Current Open and Closed Waters for the Spiny Lobster Fishery Current fishery closure and health advisory information due to domoic acid   

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.

Also, be sure to check marine protected area regulations to determine whether marine protected areas in your chosen fishing location permit fishing for spiny lobster.

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?

You do not need to purchase a spiny lobster report card if you are not fishing for lobster. 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.

What is the possession limit for lobster?

According to CCR T14, Section 29.90(b), the daily recreational bag limit and possession limit are seven lobsters per person, 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). You may obtain authorization for possessing more lobsters than the possession limit (see Declaration for Multi-Day Fishing Trip, Section 27.15 T14, CCR).

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.

Can I carry a pole spear or a spear gun while diving for lobsters?

Yes, you can (14 CCR Section 29.80 (g)), but you cannot use such equipment to help you catch lobsters. The rule was written so you can spear for finfish and catch lobsters by hand on the same dive, not to allow you to take lobsters with the assistance of spearfishing equipment.

Can I catch lobsters with hoop net while my friend next to me chooses to dive?

You can! The regulation requires divers to take lobsters by hand only (14 CCR Section 29.80(g), but there is nothing prohibiting them from going out with friends who want to use hoop net.

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"?

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 California ocean sport fishing regulations.

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

You may use up to two hoop nets while fishing from a public pier. Reference CCR T14, Section 28.65(b)

Do I need a sport fishing license to catch lobsters from a public pier?

No, you do not need a sport fishing license to catch lobsters from a public pier (Fish & Game Code Section 7153). Please be mindful, however, that the regulation is very specific about what constitutes a public pier (14 CCR Section 1.88). Furthermore, you will still need a Spiny Lobster Report Card and you must comply with all the requirements of the Report Card (14 CCR Section 29.91).

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)

Why are people allowed to keep lobsters with eggs? This just doesn’t make sense to me.

The lobster season start and end dates were carefully chosen with spawning in mind. The season opens after the majority of lobsters have already spawned, and the season closes before the stock moves back into shallow water to repeat the cycle all over again. While it is true that a few lobsters with eggs are caught each year, the season provides more than ample protection for spawning lobsters.

Why hasn't a slot limit been established for lobsters? People need to let the big breeders go!

The idea of a slot limit was carefully analyzed during the Lobster Advisory Committee process while writing the California Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan, and the benefits of a slot limit would not be as great as one might think. Natural mortality in lobsters, even excluding fishing take is very high. The health of our lobster stock is really dependent on sexually mature sub-legal sized lobsters. The current size limit was selected to allow lobsters to spawn 1-3 times before reaching legal size. Female lobsters grow slower than males because they put more energy into egg production. Poaching sub-legal sized lobsters has been identified as probably the greatest potential threat to the lobster stock. Most of the truly large lobsters are males and releasing them doesn’t have the same reproductive benefits as protecting the sub-legal spawners. Sub-legal sized lobsters are truly the engines of sustainability for this fishery. 

Why can commercial fishermen use huge traps when recreational fishermen are restricted to using hoop nets? It just doesn’t seem fair!

CDFW is mandated by law to allow for the sustainable use of lobster by both the commercial and recreational fishing sectors. While our laws say that recreational fishermen are entitled to harvest for sport (and not subsistence use), commercial fishermen must make a living off the resource. The commercial lobster industry is highly regulated, with a fixed number of permits, and commercial fishermen are required to use traps with strict regulations concerning mesh size and escape ports that allow large numbers of sub-legal sized lobsters to come and go freely from traps. Recreational lobster fishing is a sport activity not meant for subsistence. CDFW would like recreational users to enjoy this resource. The number of recreational participants is not restricted, and hoop nets and diving are both very effective methods of recreational take. Finally, there are large productive areas that are closed to commercial lobster fishing but open to recreational lobster fishing, such as Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay, San Diego Bay, the lee side of Catalina Island, and many bays and jetties.


What is the difference between commercial and recreational lobstering? How do I know which one I am?

If you are selling your catch, you are fishing commercially.

How is CDFW helping the spiny lobster?

Fishery management is an ongoing and iterative process. CDFW staff are actively engaged in further developing our understanding of Panulirus interruptus to better manage the commercial and recreational fisheries. Over the years these efforts have accumulated into a substantial body of work.

With input from stakeholders, CDFW developed the California Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan that was adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission on April 13, 2016. The fishery management plan serves as the foundation for managing the spiny lobster fishery. More information is available on the California Spiny Lobster FMP page. In 2020, CDFW published the California Spiny Lobster Enhanced Status Report with the most up-to-date information on the species and the fisheries. In 2023, the state further refined spiny lobster fishing regulations to improve management of the fisheries.

What if I have a question that is not answered here?

The best way to contact us with questions regarding lobster is by emailing

I sometimes lend my hoop nets to friends. Can I mark my GO ID number on the buoys with something removable, like tape?

Yes, as long as your GO ID is on the buoy itself and is clear and legible. Please understand that if the tape falls off or if the GO ID becomes otherwise not legible, you will be in violation of 14 CCR 29.80(b)(6).

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

Report Online:
Online Harvest Reporting System

Report by Mail:
Lobster Report Card
3883 Ruffin Rd.
San Diego, CA 92123

Lobster Fishery Management Plan

cover page of CALIFORNIA SPINY LOBSTER FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLAN pdf showing lobster and CDFW logo - click to open in new window