Now that Lobster Season is upon us, it’s important to learn about these interesting creatures and what we can do to support their population so that we can enjoy them for years to come. Dr. Tammy Warren of the Bermuda Government’s Department of Environmental Protection served us with her expert knowledge of the spiny lobster.

What is the latin name for a spiny lobster? 
The lobster that we call “spiny lobster” in Bermuda is the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus.  However, this is only one of several spiny lobster species that are found in Bermuda.  Another spiny lobster, which is also caught in Bermuda, is the spotted spiny lobster, Panulirus guttatus.  This lobster is locally known as the guinea chick lobster.

What makes a spiny lobster different than others?
Spiny lobsters do not have claws like the American/Maine lobster (Homarus americanus) and other “clawed” lobsters, and their antennae are longer then their bodies (unlike the slipper or furry lobsters whose antennae are shorter than their bodies).

Who catches lobster?
In Bermuda, lobsters are caught by commercial fishermen and recreational lobster divers.  Both groups need a license to catch lobsters.

How are they caught?
Commercial fishermen catch lobsters using traps that were designed specifically for that purpose, and recreational divers use nooses/snares (a device comprised of a hollow metal rod with a wire that forms a noose at one end).

Where do they live?
Adult and juvenile spiny lobsters live under ledges and in caves in coral reefs.  However, they spend their first six to nine months as larvae adrift on ocean currents.

Who are their prey?
Spiny lobsters eat slow-moving animals such as bivalves, i.e. turkey wing mussel; sea snails (gastropods), i.e. conch; worms; sea urchins; and other crustaceans, i.e. crabs.  They also feed on algae and dead animals.

Who are their predators?
In their larval phase, spiny lobsters are mainly eaten by pelagic fish (fish that live in the sunlit waters of the ocean such as tuna and wahoo) as they drift around.  Adult spiny lobsters are eaten by sharks, groupers, octopus, triggerfishes and even loggerhead turtles.

What is their defense mechanism?
Their main defence is their spiny exterior.  They use their long, spiny antennae like whips to defend themselves.  They can also flip their tails and swim backwards very quickly when threatened.

When is lobster season?
The fishing season for Caribbean spiny lobsters in Bermuda runs from the 1st of September through until the 31st of March of the following year.  Commercial guinea chick lobster fishermen operate during the same period.

Why do we have only designated times lobsters can be caught?
Both the Caribbean spiny lobster and the guinea chick lobster reproduce during the spring and summer months so this period is closed to fishing to give them the opportunity to do that in peace!

How big do our lobsters get?
Regionally, Caribbean spiny lobsters typically reach a size of about 1 ½ feet (45 centimetres) total length.  Guinea chick lobsters only grow to about 8 inches (20 centimetres) total length.

What are the size restrictions for catching lobsters?
The minimum size of a legal Caribbean spiny lobster in Bermuda is three and five-eighths inches (3 5/8”) or 92 millimetres carapace length. While there is currently no legislated minimum size for the guinea chick lobster, the terms and conditions of the commercial guinea chick lobster license specify that they can only land guinea chick lobsters whose carapaces are 57 millimetres (2 ¼ inches) or above.  This was agreed upon following research conducted locally.

What is the biggest one ever caught?
Not sure – but in Bermuda, we regularly see Caribbean spiny lobsters around 50 centimetres total length.  Compared to other places in the region, marine life in Bermuda often reaches larger sizes because of our cooler temperatures and shorter breeding season.

How do they reproduce?
The male lobster deposits a sperm packet called a “tarspot” on the underside of the female’s carapace. When the female releases her eggs, she scratches the “tarspot” to release sperm to fertilise the eggs. The female carries the fertilized eggs under her tail.  In this state, she is referred to as “berried.”   The eggs hatch in about 4 weeks and the resulting larvae look nothing like adult lobsters.

Where else are spiny lobsters found?
In addition to Bermuda, the Caribbean spiny lobster is found from North Carolina southward through the Gulf of Mexico, the Antilles, and the coasts of Central and South America to Brazil.

The spotted spiny lobster has a narrower distribution and, in addition to Bermuda, is found on the southeast Florida coast, Bahamas, Belize, Panama, the Caribbean arc from Cuba to Trinidad, Curaçao, Bonaire, Los Roques, Suriname, and Brazil.

What can we do to support the lobster population in Bermuda?
2023 Update: A decline in numbers of the local Caribbean spiny lobster, whose population has been hit by the loss of seagrass habitats, means fewer takers permitted for the lobster trap and diver fishery. Drastic cutbacks are on the table for the upcoming season.
Recreational licences were first capped in 2017 at 500, declining to 340 licences in 2022.
Government currently proposes a 50% decrease in commercial lobster fishing licences, from 22 to 11.

If people abide by the regulations, the populations should improve.

Anyone wishing to catch lobsters will need to get a license from the Department of Environmental Protection in the Botanical Gardens.  The recreational lobster diver license is $130.  In addition to the closed season and minimum legal size, licensed divers must:
•    Only take two lobsters per day
•    Land the lobsters whole (i.e. it is not permitted to wring the tail at sea)
•    Not take, injure, sell, purchase or be in possession of a lobster that is bearing eggs (i.e. berried)
•    Only use a noose or snare.  Spearing a lobster is prohibited.
•    Not use SCUBA or any kind of assisted underwater breathing apparatus to take lobsters
•    Not sell lobsters
•    Submit monthly statistics
•    Only dive in certain areas

People who do not have a license should not take lobsters at all, should not be in possession of a lobster while at sea, and should not even be in possession of a noose or snare that is used for taking lobsters.