Current 2019-2020 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.

  • The recreational lobster fishing season STARTS at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday SEPTEMBER 28, 2019. The last day of the season is March 18, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. **The season no longer starts at midnight for safety reasons**
  • 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 lobster brochure on the right for diagram 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 CDFW Online Mapping Tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any new regulations for the 2019-2020 lobster fishing season?


When did the requirement for filling out and submitting spiny lobster report cards go into effect?

Persons taking or trying to take lobster are required to possess, fill out and submit spiny lobster report cards starting September 27, 2008.

Am I required to have a lobster gauge when I go fishing for lobster? Can I use a tape measure or a ruler?

Yes, you can find a lobster gauge at most if not all tackle shops near the coast. You must carry a measuring device that can accurately measure a lobster. The carapace of a lobster is curved so a device like tape measure or ruler would not work. Reference Section 29.05(c) T14, CCR.

Am I required to have a spiny lobster report card?


How much does the spiny lobster report card cost?

The 2019-2020 spiny lobster report card costs $9.27 when purchased from CDFW offices, and a small (~2%) surcharge may apply when purchasing from other vendors.

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.

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).

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.

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.

What will CDFW do with the additional income generated from the sales of spiny lobster report cards? Will it be used for anything to do with lobster?

The funds can be used to support any CDFW project, including those specifically focused on lobster.

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

2018-19 cards can be dropped off or mailed to the address specified on the report card by April 30, 2019:

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

You can also report online at:

2019-2020 cards are due back to CDFW by April 30, 2020, and can also be reported online or mailed to the address above. There is a $20 non-return fee. Report card holders can avoid the non-return fee by returning their cards by the due date, or by sitting out one 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.

Have the new reporting requirements for Lobster Report Cards improved the estimate of sport catch?

The new reporting requirements and non-return fee went into effect beginning with the 2013-2014 season. Since then, card return rates have improved greatly. It could be argued that the new reporting requirements encourage more people to return their lobster report cards, which in turn has improved estimates of sport lobster catch and effort.


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.

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"?

I have heard about a spiny lobster brochure. Where can I find one?

You can find the California recreational spiny lobster report card program’s “link opens in new windowReporting Your Catch (PDF)” brochure, which contains a summary of information about the new lobster report card as well as lobster fishery management at select CDFW offices in coastal Southern California, or online. There is also link opens in new windowa brochure detailing California spiny lobster biology, regulations, and fishing (PDF) available online.

What is the minimum size limit for spiny lobster, and how do I measure a lobster?

The minimum size limit for California spiny lobster is 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.

View a lobster measurement diagram online.
Reference Section 29.90(c) Title 14, California Code of Regulations (CCR).

What is the daily bag limit for lobster? The possession limit?

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).

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.

When does recreational lobster season start and end?

Recreational lobster season runs from Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.

This seasons dates are: Saturday, September 28, 2019 through Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Reference Section 29.90(a) T14, CCR.

When does recreational lobster season "technically" start - the actual time it opens?

Recreational lobster season opens at 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday of October and closes at 12:00 a.m. on the first Wednesday (night) after the 15th of March.

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

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.

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)

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)

I've captured a lobster with a tag attached to it. What should I do?

There are various programs that have tagged lobsters in southern California. A unique identification code (tag number) and phone number (or website) can be found printed on most tags, which are usually small colored strips of plastic inserted into the underside or back of the lobster. Researchers are interested in learning about the movement and growth of individual lobsters. It is important to record the date, location where the lobster was caught (GPS coordinates are best, but distance to a recognized landmark will work if you don't have a GPS), as well as the carapace length of the lobster (to the nearest millimeter if possible), and the tag number. All four pieces of information: date, location, length, and tag number, are important when reporting a tagged lobster.

In 2011 and 2012, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, San Diego Oceans Foundation, San Diego State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography teamed with lobster fishermen and volunteers to collaborate on a project to tag and monitor thousands of lobster in southern California. The final report for this collaborative project can be found here: 

Lobsters may be brought to the surface to measure. If the lobster is under legal size and is tagged, quickly record the number on the tag and immediately release the lobster. No undersize lobster, even if it is tagged, may be placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person, or retained in any manner. Do not remove tags from any short lobsters.

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.

When does commercial lobster season start?

Commercial season starts on the first Wednesday in October.

How is CDFW helping the spiny lobster?

CDFW staff have always been active in further developing our understanding of 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 most recent link opens in new tab or windowStatus of the Fisheries Report (PDF) on the spiny lobster fishery in 2011. The report also contains a summary of historical landings data. Information on the fishery has been further updated 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.

California Spiny Lobster brochure - link opens in new window Read the link opens in new windowCalifornia Spiny Lobster brochure (PDF) for sport diving and hoop netting regulations, spiny lobster life history information, fishing tips, and more!

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:

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

Lobster Fishery Management Plan