October 2nd found us off the coast of Laguna Beach for the opening day of "lobster season", the euphemism for lobster hunting season. As we left the mouth of Newport Harbor I was astounded by the number of trap lines that were in place along the coastline. We have been removing abandoned commercial fishing gear all summer long, and on each trip we would see maybe 20 trap markers (for live finfish traps). But this day was different. By the time we got to our destination, Crystal Cove State Park, we had seen about 300 trap markers! All within roughly a 4 mile distance.
What boils my water is that there is NO sanctuary for lobsters. Even though I enjoy seeing them in the wild, I have no rights when it comes to letting them live so others can enjoy them. The first person that comes along with a fishing license can take any lobster they want, so long as they are of legal size.
Despite all the traps in the water, we did make 2 dives. The crew consisted of Jim Lieber (1st mate), Scott Sheckman, Lisa Davis and myself. What Scott and I saw underwater was disturbing. A lot of the traps that were set were placed directly onto the reefs. The traps and line damaged and killed a lot of the gorgonians and other sea life that is anchored to the surface of the reefs. We successfully removed one abandoned lobster trap, 2 trap weight bars, and 250 feet of nylon trap lines. We also removed a long stretch of garden hose found on the reef! All in all it was a good day for ODA, but a sad sight for the lobsters. It's a wonder that by the end of "lobster season", in March, there are any lobsters left.
ODA was back in the water on October 16th. We had two beautiful dives. This time with a crew of Jim, Chris Bell, Erik Burrows and myself. An absolutely gorgeous day, with flat seas and 40 foot visibility. Armed with GPS coordinates provided by Nancy Caruso from OC CoastKeepers, we headed for the reef system just off of Heisler Park. And sure enough we located 2 traps that Nancy said were there. We also pulled another trap that we found further out from the area of OCCK's test site. This area turns out to be laden with traps, trap lines and remnants. In all we pulled 3 traps, 4 weight bars, about 120 pounds of trap remnants plus over 250 feet of nylon lines. We were forced to leave more junk behind because we ran out of air. We lost one trap and the lift bag when the air leaked out of the bag and we could not find it. Needless to say we will return to recover both the trap and our expensive lift bag.
Another observation we noticed is that the newly set traps, so numerous on the opening day of lobster season, had been reduced by roughly a third. After reading more about the lobster hunt I found that almost 80% of the lobster's caught are landed within the first week of the season. Long live the survivors!
Founder & President
Ocean Defenders Alliance