Even as the specter of new and improved Marine Protected Areas threatens to impact their way of life, Santa Barbara-based lobstermen are enjoying one of their most economically successful seasons in memory. With less than six weeks to go in the approximately five-and-a-half-month-long Pacific spiny lobster commercial fishing season, crews are happily reporting dockside rates in excess of $15 per pound for the clawless and often China-bound critters. Even better, preliminary landing numbers indicate that poundage is up as well. “Those two factors right there are making for a great season,” opined lobster and crab fisher Charlie Graham earlier this week.
In typical lobster seasons, on-the-boat per-pound rates — which fluctuate throughout the season — usually max out right around $10. However, this year, thanks in part to the annual bump in demand stemming from Chinese New Year, the general increase in seafood prices, and the virtual crash of the competing Western Australia lobster fishery, prices have soared. In fact, when the season opened on the first Wednesday in October, buyers were already offering up around $10.50 a pound. Add to this the big wave and storm action of an El Niño weather pattern and a blue moon at the height of the season (waves and moon tides often get lobsters moving around more), and you have the recipe for a memorable run of fishing for the 202 commercially licensed lobster fishers in the state. (It is worth noting, however, that of that number, according to the Department of Fish and Game, only about 150 are active in any given year. And, of those that are active, roughly one third of them are fishing out of Santa Barbara and Ventura Harbors.)