Pacific lobster harvest expected to bounce back, but prices hit a lull

California’s spiny lobster production for the 2018-19 season should come in on par with the 2017-18 season. As of early March, divers had landed 194.4 metric tons at average ex-vessel prices of $17.04 per pound for revenues of $7.3 million, according to data with PacFIN.  Those numbers were expected to climb by the time the season ended in mid-March.

“The data for 2018-19 is incomplete,” said Tom Mason, senior environmental scientist with the spiny lobster management team of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife in San Diego. “There’s still quite a bit of data to be entered.”

Mason adds that many processors had not yet reported landings and that final numbers wouldn’t be known until weeks later.

“It might be slightly lower,” he said of the harvest compared to the year before, “but definitely higher than 194.4 metric tons.”

The 2017-18 landings hit 270.9 metric tons with average ex-vessel prices of $18.96 per pound revenues came in at $11.32 million. The 2017-18 landings are down slightly from the 2016-17 season, when the fleet landed more than 307 metric tons at $20.11 per pound for $13.65 million. The 2014-15 season set recent records at 430.9 metric tons for earnings of around $18.2 million.

A prevalent theory behind the drop in ex-vessel prices lies with trade sanctions between the United States and China. The majority of the West Coast spiny lobster harvest winds up as exports to China. Ex-vessel prices usually start lower at the beginning of the season, when the fleet harvest the bulk of the product, and rise as production declines. Past prices have ranged from $16 to $22 per pound.

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 planned 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 fishermen.

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

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