California Spiny Lobster Season is Here!

The California spiny lobster season is upon us! Historically the season opens the Saturday at 6 am before the first Wednesday in October, and this year, that fell on October 3rd and closes on March 17. Though I have never fished for lobster before, I know where they hang out in San Diego.

Down below, I have provided information on the California spiny lobster fishing regulations, a map on where not to look for lobsters (Marine Protected Areas), how to fish for lobsters; as well as, a few San Diego recreational lobster boat charters that are available only during this time of year. Also included is a brief overlook of the California spiny lobster life-cycle and a few interesting facts which will help you get a better idea about this elusive and revered West Coast invertebrate!

Let’s now take a look!

(Update for 2021- Recreational lobster fishing season opens at 6 am on October 2 and closes at 12 am on March 16th. Lobster cards are due back by April 30…more information down below)

West Coast vs. East Coast Lobsters

There are 40 different lobsters worldwide, with the California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) being one of the biggest.  Affectionately referred to as ‘bugs,’ the California spiny lobster ranges from south of Point Conception to Magdalena Bay on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico.

California Spiny Lobster Scientific Name Blog Chart
California Spiny Lobster Scientific Classification

The Maine lobster (Homarus americanus) – also known as the North American lobster, differs from its west coast cousin as it has two huge powerful front claws, which the spiny lobster lacks.

Instead, the spiny lobster defends itself with the sharp spines on its carapace shell as well as with its large whip-like antennae.

Recreational Lobster Fishing Information

The 2020 California spiny lobster season officially opened on October third and will continue until March 17, 2021.

->California Department of Fish and Wildlife Recreational Lobster<- Fishing Regulations

Below is a link to a map of the coast of San Diego to reference before fishing for lobster from a vessel. You want to make sure that you are nowhere near any Marine Protected Areas.

–>Ocean Sport Fishing and Marine Protected Area Regulations<–

Bag Limit-7 per day, which may only be taken by hand or by a hoop net

Minimum SIze– 3.25 inches long carapace. Measure 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 (carapace). All must have a measuring device capable of accurately determining the legal length of their person at all times.

lobster carapace shell rock beach
Here is what you measure, the carapace.

Equipment- All lobsters may only be taken by hand or by a hoop net. No more than five hoop nets may be possessed per person when fishing for lobsters. No more than 10 hoop nets may be included aboard a vessel regardless of how many are on board.

Permit Requirments-A California Department of Fish and Wildlife Spiny Lobster Report Card and a California Recreational Fishing License. No fishing license is required on public piers and jetties. (Remember that a jetty is surrounded by water in three places.)

What is a Spiny Lobster Report Card?

Regardless of age, every person taking lobsters must carry and record the coordinates of where you obtained each lobster.

Report cards help biologists determine whether the lobster resource is strong and if current fishing regulations are working correctly.

Before fishing,  fill out the month, day, location, and gear used (hoop net or hands). Whenever you are done fishing, change location,  or gear, make sure to record the number of lobsters taken from that location.

If, by some chance, you fill out your report card before the cutoff date of April 30th, you may turn it in early and receive another card.

Again, you must turn all Spiny Lobster Report Cards into the California Fish and Wildlife Office no later than April 30th. If you fail to do so, it won’t be easy to receive a 2021 report card the following year.

Do you need a California Recreational Fishing License or a CDFW Spiny Lobster Report Card?

Click on the link provided below.

–>CDFW Online License Sales and Services<-

Diving For Lobsters in San Diego

lobster diving california spiny lobster

When freediving or scuba diving, you may possess spearfishing equipment, but you may not use it to aid in taking lobsters. You can use only your hands. Divers may come up to the surface to measure, but no measurements are allowed out of the water onshore.

Lobster Diving Tips

  • nocturnal-best time to find them is at night
  • always use the brightest light possible to increase the range of visibility
  • strong, durable gloves to protect against spines
  • mesh bag to put the lobster inside
  • look for antennae sticking out of rocks and crevises
  • chum with bait or cat food
  • please pick up the lobster from its midsection as the tail is extremely powerful
  • bag the lobster tail first; this way, it will swim into the bag rather than out

Fishing for Lobsters on the Piers

No fishing license is required when fishing from any public pier in California., but do not forget to have your Lobster Report Card!

Only 5 hoop nets are allowed per person.

The best pier to try fishing for the spiny lobster in San Diego would be Ocean Beach Pier.

I can recall several times when anglers who were looking for fish ended up catching a lobster. Unfortunately, I had to remind them that you can only keep the lobster during the season and only by a hoop net, so they needed to throw it back.  (more down below)

Fishing for Lobster Aboard a Vessel

San Diego Bay point loma bay entrance
San Diego Bay Entrance

Hoop nets are used from various vessels during the California spiny lobster season- from boats, paddleboards, jet skis, kayaks, and even surfboards.

As stated above, a maximum number of 10 hoop nets is allowed per vessel, regardless of how many passengers are on board.

Lobster Hoop Net Hints

lobster hoop net california spiny lobster season

  • use an oily or aromatic bait to scatter a scent trail
    • squid, Pacific mackerel, bonito, anchovies, sardines
    • raw chicken
    • catfood via percolated cans
  • As a rule, always stay away from other nets, especially next to commercial lobster pots.
    • Reminder, it is illegal to disturb or rob commercial lobster traps
  • It is important to store your lobsters in an ice chest as they can spoil, and only clean your catch when you get home. Lobsters can live out of water for up to 24 hours.

 California Spiny Lobster Facts

The California spiny lobsters were the 4th most valuable fish/shellfish species caught in California in 2019. Over 373 tons were harvested!

Now that may seem like a lot, but compared to the North American lobster (Homarus americanus) harvest of  45 677 tons, you can see no comparison in terms of volume.

Let’s look at a few other California spiny lobster interesting facts that might help you out.

  • nocturnal scavengers that feed on fish, mussels, sea urchin, snails, worms, algae, and even other lobsters
  • habitat consists of rocky reef and other hard substrates-hide in cracks and crevises
    • also favor manmade habitats such as jetties, seawalls, piers, rocks, and artificial reefs
    • surf grass and eelgrass beds can be prolific
    • at night they can be found on sand or mud bottoms

California Spiny Lobster Life-Cycle

Lobsters ed bierman flickr
Photo credit-Ed Bierman on Flickr
  • Male lobsters can reach over three feet in length (minus antennae) and weigh up to 26 pounds
  • can live to over 50- 150 years of age
  • move to shallow waters in the Spring and Summer and migrate out to deeper waters in the Fall and Winter
    • the lobsters  move offshore with the start of winter storms, and when the nearshore waters begin to cool
  • a female carrying eggs is called ‘berried.”
    • females can lay over 80 000 to 800,000 eggs (depends on size)
      • reproduce from January to April
      • the females move to warmer shallow water in March and April, with the eggs being fertilized in May and June
    • there is no regulation, but most will return a female with eggs back into the water as a conservation practice
  • after a 10 week incubation period, the eggs will hatch, and the baby lobsters drift as plankton with the ocean currents for 9 months
  • between 6 and 9 months, the little lobster plankton molt into miniature versions of their adult selves and settle into surf grass beds to molt into juvenile lobsters
    • the California lobster molts over 40 times before it reaches a legal size (7 to 11 years)

Where are the Best Places in San Diego to Find Lobster?

Ocean Beach pier california spiny lobster reef

–>List of San Diego Fishing Piers<–

So I did some research on a few fishing boards online to get an idea of where everyone is catching lobster in San Diego.

And let me tell you what I found.  Lobster spots are heavily guarded secrets in the San Diego fishing community! Down below are a few spots that I did uncover for you.

As I stated above, Ocean Beach Pier is the best pier to fish for lobsters in San Diego. The best time would be at high tide at the beginning of the pier on the south side. At this location, there is a rocky reef and is known to be a lobster hotspot.

Another popular San Diego lobster fishing spot, at least the one spot reported the most,  has to be the Zuniga Jetty at San Diego Bay (see photo below).

A few other suggestions-

  • any spot that is rocky intertidal
  • near bridge pilings in Mission Bay
  • South Mission Bay Jetty
  • Ocean Beach Jetty
Zuniga Point san diego bay
Zuniga Point

Lobster Boat Charters in San Diego

Jig Strike lobster fishing vessel

I found a few lobster boat charters to consider. Click on the provided links and photos for more information.

Mission Bay Lobster Fishing Charters

Boundless boat charters california spiny lobster fishing

Boundless Boat Charters

San Diego Bay Lobster Charter Boats

Captain Clowers website lobster fishing boats

Captain Clowers

H&M landing lobster vessels Jig Strike

H&M Landing

H&M Landing offers two lobster boat trips from 6 pm to 11 pm aboard Jig Strike and Alicia

San Diego Lobster Internet Forum Information

SDFish forum lobster fishing landing page
Click on the photo for more information!

As a bonus, I found the most informative fishing forum online,,  where many San Diego anglers communicate with each other. Some subjects include making hoop nets, where San Diego anglers are finding lobsters, and much more.

Maybe you can find more hints here! Check it out!

Good luck to you, and if you catch any lobsters, please feel free to tell me about them!

Until next time!

More Updated Information Regarding Spiny Lobster Season 2020

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife took the time to determine where everyone caught the most lobsters in Southern California. Down below, I have provided for you San Diego’s top spots to catch lobster in  2019-2020, as well as the percentage of caught in all of Southern California.

  • San Diego Bay -(13.3%)
  • Zuniga Jetty- (3.4%)
  • Mission Bay- (2.3 %)

What Was The Best Way to Catch Lobsters by Gear Type in 2019- 2020?

  • Rigid Hoop Net- (47.9%)
  • Free Diving- (21.5%)
  • Scuba Diving- (21.4%)
  • Traditional Hoop Net- (9.1%)

How Many Were Caught By Effort and Gear Type in 2019-2020?

  • Scuba Diving- (3.06 lobsters /trip)
  • Rigid Hoop Net- (2.3 lobsters/trip)
  • Free Diving- (2.08 lobsters/trip)
  • Traditional Hoop Net- (1.73 lobsters/trip)


California Spiny Lobster Information-Fishing and Life History Information



2 Replies to “California Spiny Lobster Season is Here!”

  1. Hi Colleen,
    I enjoyed your article very much. I am considering moving to Carlsbad next year. I was wondering if you could tell me what areas are good for fishing and lobstering near Carlsbad? I might be looking for a fishing and lobstering buddy as well. Are there any message boards or blogs that you could recommend where I might be able to meet someone with similar interests? Thanks!

    1. Hi Blair! You are so lucky to be moving to Carlsbad! It is gorgeous. In terms of fishing, a great spot is on the western shoreline of Agua Hedionda Lagoon. A bit more south and on the border of Carlsbad and Encinitas is South Ponto Beach. I always see anglers fishing south of the bluffs. Another great spot for shore fishing is Boneyards in Encinitas.

      I will leave this here for you- Saltwater Fishing in San Diego.
      Oceanside Pier is fun, and you may even catch a couple of lobsters over here. Another cool spot is the jetty near the entrance of Oceanside Harbor.

      I did a quick look online for a few San Diego fishing clubs and found a couple for you- Outcast Fishing Club,, Mission Bay Marlin Club.

      May I make a suggestion? Try taking a sportfishing party boat out of Oceanside, and I can almost guarantee that you will find like-minded individuals and maybe a fishing buddy!

      Here is a Lobster fishing forum I found for you on

      Good luck on the move, and I hope you catch a lot of fish!
      Thank you for reaching out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *