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.

  • Recreational lobster season opens at 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October and closes at 12:00 a.m. on the first Wednesday (night) after the 15th of March. **The season no longer starts at midnight for safety reasons** For current regulations, please visit the Current California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations for Point Conception to the U.S. - Mexico Border.
  • Recreational Bag 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 (3 ¼ inch carapace). Please see the link opens in new windowlobster measurement diagram (PDF) on how to measure your lobster.
  • Permit Requirements: CDFW Spiny Lobster Report Card and California recreational fishing license, available at CDFW Online License Sales and Service.
  • Skin and SCUBA Diver Gear Requirements: All skin and SCUBA divers must only use their hands.
  • Pier Fishing Gear Requirements: You may use up to two 2 hoop nets while fishing from 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

You may not. Putting traps in the water would count as taking lobsters before the season opens under 14 CCR Section 29.90.

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.

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 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. Reference Section 29.90(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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How do I fill out my lobster report card?

You can find instructions on the card. Record the month, day, location, and gear code on the first available line on the card. When you are done fishing at that location, when you switch gear, 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.

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 line 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: Licenses and Permits 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.

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 Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.

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.

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 the buoy of all 10 hoop nets for the vessel?

The regulation limits each person to 5 hoop nets total and 10 hoop nets per boat (14 CCR Section 29.80(b)). Additionally, every hoop net being used south of Point Arguello (in north Santa Barbara County) must be marked with a surface buoy with its operator’s GO ID (14 CCR Section 29.80(b)(3)). These requirements all need to be met while fishing for lobsters.

When you are in a boat with another friend or friends, you can only have up to 10 hoop nets between you. You may have more than one GO ID on the buoy of a hoop net, but if anyone has their GO ID(s) appearing on the buoys or more than 5 hoop nets, they are technically violating the 5-hoop-net-per-person limit. At the same time, a person cannot technically pull a hoop net unless their GO ID is marked on the buoy attached to that hoop net.

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?

CDFW staff have always been active in further developing our understanding of Panulirus interruptus. Over the years these efforts have accumulated into a substantial body of work, available through the Lobster Work Products web page. A more streamlined set of basic life history information is also available from CDFW's Life History Information for Selected California Marine Invertebrates and Plants table.

CDFW published the California Spiny Lobster Enhanced Status Report in 2020. Specific information on the fishery is contained in the link opens in new tab or window2017 State of the California South Coast Supplemental Report: California Spiny Lobster (PDF). In order to manage this fishery more comprehensively, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted the Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan on April 13, 2016. The fishery management plan serves as the groundwork for the management of the spiny lobster fishery. More information is available on the California Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan web page.

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

The best way to contact us with questions regarding lobster is by emailing lobster@wildlife.ca.gov.

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

Our online harvest reporting system

If you do not have readily available access to internet, you may also submit the report card to:

CDFW
Lobster Report Card
3883 Ruffin Rd.
San Diego, CA 92123

Lobster Fishery Management Plan