As a recreational and scientific diver, I’ve seen the California spiny lobster ‑ an ecologically important species in our local kelp forests, as well as an important commercial and recreational fishery – in varying population densities along our coastline and out at the Channel Islands.
A predatory species that can be found hiding in dens under rock ledges, lobsters are an important key to maintaining marine biodiversity in our local waters because they prey upon kelp-consuming species such as sea urchins. This in turn helps to balance species abundance in kelp forest ecosystems. In essence, spiny lobster help to provide a stable ecosystem for other species that live in and rely on kelp for food and habitat.
I’ve been diving in “urchin barrens” along our coast and on the backside on Anacapa Island where spiny lobster are hard to come by – places where kelp forests have been completely consumed by urchins, leading to ecosystems that are dominated by just a few species like purple urchins and brittle stars.
To invest in the future sustainability of our local lobsters, Heal the Bay has been following and weighing in on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (DFW) process to develop a Fishery Management Plan that aims to sustain lobster populations for years to come. This plan is required under the Marine Life Management Act, and will be developed using the best scientific data available on spiny lobster natural history, recreational and commercial fishery data, and the effects lobster fisheries have on marine ecosystems. In addition to a series of public meetings and public reviews of the planning process, the DFW put together a Lobster Advisory Committee made up of volunteers including recreational fishermen, marine scientists, government, commercial fishermen, NGOs and non-consumptive, recreational users. My colleague, Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Director Sarah Sikich, holds the environmental stakeholder seat in a group made up of commercial fishermen, scientists, government, recreational fishermen, and divers. This group has met over the past two years developing plans to manage California’s spiny lobster fishery, and I have attended many of these meetings as a member of the public, but specifically as a marine scientist and local SCUBA diver.
California’s Lobster Advisory Committee has met regularly since 2012 and has a major role in the fishery management plan planning process. California’s Ocean Protection Council has provided a grant to support the lobster fishery management planning process and the DFW should have a fishery management plan for California spiny lobster by 2015.