California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) marine officers contacted more than 400 anglers while patrolling Catalina, San Nicholas and Santa Barbara islands during the recreational lobster season opener on Sept. 28. During the opening weekend, CDFW wildlife officers issued 35 citations and 26 warnings.
Violations included undersize lobster, overlimit of lobster, lobster report card violations, fishing in a Marine Protected Area (MPA), violations of sheephead, lingcod and commercial sea cucumber regulations, no commercial fishing license and commercial lobster traps wired shut.
Due to the large amount of activity around the offshore islands in past years, CDFW officers deployed three department vessels, the Thresher, Coho and Swordfish, to enforce laws and regulations as well as public safety measures in the ocean miles off the California coast. Several significant cases were made during the opening weekend, including:
• After receiving a CalTIP report officers inspected a commercial fishing site and found 14 of 16 lobster traps wired shut rather than open as regulations require. A formal complaint is pending with the District Attorney.
• A wildlife officer rescued a diver in distress complaining of severe cramping in both legs. After the diver was towed back to his boat, he was found to be in possession of 10 lobsters, four of which were undersized. He was cited for an overlimit and released.
• Officers observed a boat anchored on the border of Blue Cavern SMCA with one man aboard and a diver with a light swimming in the MPA. When an officer jumped into the water, the diver turned off his light and attempted to outswim the warden to the boat, where another officer was waiting for him to surface. The suspect said he was “only looking” and did not have any lobsters. A second warden entered the water and found the fleeing diver’s game bag with lobster in it. After a search of the boat and gear, the men were found to have 21 lobsters. They were cited for an overlimit, failure to show on demand and diving in a marine protected area.
• A commercial lobster vessel was setting unbaited, open traps along the Palos Verdes coastline. One of the crew members was found to not have a commercial fishing license and was cited.
• Officers boarded a 50-foot sport fishing vessel and found the captain operating an unlicensed charter boat operation and charging passengers $900 for the trip. The boat did not have a commercial registration or ocean enhancement stamps. A formal complaint is pending with the District Attorney.
• At Santa Barbara Island, a diver attempted to distract officers with the classic “what’s that over there?” while trying to drop his dive bag. The warden put on his SCUBA equipment and retrieved the bag 60-feet below the surface. It was filled with nine lobsters, and the diver was cited for an overlimit.
• While on patrol, the crew of the Swordfish heard a mayday distress call from a 45-foot sport boat less than a mile from their location. The boat was grounding on the rocks of Anacapa Island. They rushed to the scene and pulled the boat off the rocks. A man and his three teenage children were aboard and the boat had a dead battery.
California spiny lobsters are crustaceans that are common from Point Conception to Baja California. Lobster season is generally open from the first Saturday in October through about March 15 and is carefully monitored and regulated. California spiny lobsters are slow-growing animals that biologists estimate take as long as seven years to grow to legal size. Fishermen must have a valid California fishing license with an ocean enhancement validation, a lobster report card and a lobster gauge to measure for proper size.