Coronavirus and Chinese trade tariffs put California’s spiny lobster industry in a stranglehold this past season. If the trade tariffs going into the season weren’t enough, ex-vessel prices plummeted to a third of what they’d been in previous years with announcements that the coronavirus outbreak warranted stopping shipments of live lobsters to primary markets.

Lunar New Year celebrations in China traditionally mark the highest demand for lobsters shipped across the water from the West Coast. But that market deflated as coronavirus kept Chinese consumers home, slashing demand.

As of mid-March, spiny lobster fishermen had put in 76.5 metric tons of product, according to data posted in PacFIN. Ex-vessel prices averaged $12.26 per pound. Much of that value was predicated by deliveries and shipments previous to the outbreak of the virus in China. Both production and values were down significantly from the same period in the 2018-19 season, when the harvest stood at 194.4 metric tons and average ex-vessel prices of $17.04 per pound.

Though processors’ reports and other sources of harvest data aren’t usually compiled until later in the year, it isn’t likely harvest numbers will increase.

Landings in the 2017-18 season, meanwhile, hit 271 metric tons. At the average dockside prices of $18.96 per pound fleet revenues crunched out to $11.32 million.

Even that season suffered its share of foibles: Unacceptable levels of domoic acid made their appearance again in the 2018-19 fishery and caused closures in a prime harvest area surrounding Anacapa Island in Ventura County. Fishing there was put on hold for a month, then reopened after acid levels dropped below the threshold of 20 parts per million.

Other developments facing industry involve the continued process of implementing a 300-trap limit per vessel. In the months ahead, fisheries managers plan to meet with fishermen about fine-tuning regulations that allow for the replacement of pots that have been lost and salvaging gear belonging to other fisherman.

Have you listened to this article via the audio player?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

Charlie Ess is the North Pacific Bureau Chief for National Fisherman.

Join the Conversation