FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Caribbean spiny lobsters, sometimes called Florida lobster or rock lobster, is a highly fecund species that can be long-lived, depending on the level of fishing pressure. Migration routes do make them easy to capture in large numbers. Caribbean spiny lobsters are found in the warm waters off the southeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean to Brazil. Overall data about the species’ abundance remains uncertain although scientific stock assessments have been done in Florida, where the lobsters are not considered overfished. However, most Caribbean spiny lobster is imported from Latin America, where they are overfished.
These spiny lobsters are commonly caught using pots and traps made from wood, plastic or metal that are weighted to the seafloor. Lobster traps may have a moderate to severe effect on the ocean habitats such as rocky reefs and coral as well as sandier areas, according to a 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report. Some spiny lobsters are also caught by divers. In Florida, ecological reserves have been created where lobster fishing is prohibited.
Extent of Bycatch
Bycatch in the U.S. fishery is limited but can include undersized lobster as well as finfish such as groupers, snappers, grunts and ornamental fish, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. Fishermen with certain permits are allowed to keep and sell incidental grouper and snapper catch, however. Lobster traps in the U.S. must have biodegradable escape panels to prevent ghost fishing. While sea turtles have had some interactions with spiny lobster traps in the Florida fishery, the number of entanglements is low. Regulations are not enforced in Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and the Bahamas so bycatch there often includes undersized lobsters. In addition, finfish and crab are the most common non-targeted species caught in those regions but exact data is unknown.
The management of Caribbean spiny lobsters differs dramatically depending on the region. Measures in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico include minimum size limits, seasonal restrictions, gear restrictions and annual catch limits. Management is considered effective in Mexico, where area restrictions, gear limits and scientific monitoring are in place. In Florida, population assessments have been expanded in recent years to include scientific research and observer data, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Regulations in the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua are not commonly enforced, resulting in widespread illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. In addition, scientific data is extremely limited. A Monterey Bay Aquarium report from 2013 called management effectiveness a high concern in Belize and the Bahamas and a critical concern in Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua.