Spiny Lobster

The Science

To intimidate predators and competitors for prey, the Pacific spiny lobster will move its antennae in a sweeping motion and make an alarming grating noise using the acoustic structures at the base of its antennae.

The Fishery

Commercial lobster traps must have a self-destruction device approved by the Department

of Fish and Game to prevent the indefinite capture of marine life by lost or abandoned traps.

The Seafood

The green tomalley of a lobster, located inside the head, functions much like a liver. If eaten, it should be eaten sparingly, as it is where the lobster accumulates toxins.

The Science

California Spiny Lobster
Yetikat/CC BY-NC 4.0

Taxonomic description

  • Decapod (ten-legged) crustacean with sharp, spiny projections along upper shell and sides of tail [1,2]
  • Generally red to orange in color [1,2]
  • Has two antennae twice length of its body
  • Lacks prominent front claws [1,2]
  • Swims backwards with a flip of the tail to flee predators, otherwise able to crawl in all directions [1]
  • Strong jaws can deliver powerful bite [1]


  • Monterey Bay, California to Magdalena Bay, Baja California, with highest abundance off central Baja California [1]

Life history

  • Three phases to life cycle: larval, juvenile, and adult [1]
  • Grow by molting exoskeleton - soft body hardens into new exoskeleton about a day after leaving the old one [1,2]
  • Can regenerate lost legs, antennae with each molt [1,2]
  • Produce several broods of larvae 50,000 to 800,000 in number each time [1]
  • Mating takes place in deep waters from December through March [1]
  • Can grow to 16 kg, although rarely found to weigh over 5 kg [1]
  • Primarily scavengers, omnivorous [2]


  • Adults inhabit lower rocky intertidal zones to depths of 70 m or more, sheltered in crevices [1]
  • Often found with surf grass and types of large brown kelps [1]
  • Concealed during the day, often in groups within a single crevice [1]
  • Leave to feed shortly after sunset [1]
  • Some seasonal migration inshore from June to September, and offshore in winter months [1]

The Fishery


Seasonal availability

  • Available live, fresh, in fall and winter months 
  • Frozen available year-round [3]

Managing authority

  • Managed by Fish and Game Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife [3,4]
  • Implement limited access program restricting number of permits issued to commercial fishermen [13,4]
  • Seasonal closure to protect breeding and molting lobsters [3,4]
  • Minimum size limit imposed to protect juveniles (called “shorts” because they fall short of the required harvest length) [3,4]

Gear type

  • Rectangular wire traps baited with fish and weighted down on the seafloor and around rocky underwater outcrops in water less than 40 m (100 ft) deep [3,4]
  • 300-400 traps on average used by each boat [3,4]
  • Escape port built into trap allows undersize lobster to freely exit [3]
  • Hoop nets used in recreational fishery [3]

Status of the fishery

  • Southern California stock population targeted by three fisheries: commercial, hoop-net based recreational, and dive-based recreational [3]
  • Commercial fishery consistently harvests 660,000 lbs (300+ metric tons) each season, recreational take adds additional estimated 30 to 60 percent to commercial catch [3,4]
  • Stock population currently stable, fisheries sustainable [3,4]
  • Some risk to future management as hoop net usage in recreational fishery gains popularity and prevalence [4,5]
  • Commercial operator licenses transferable between permit holders, potentially magnifying fishing pressure on stock [4]
  • Commercial fisherman lately reporting they are catching less with more effort [4]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Bycatch rate unknown, but low impact as trap structure enables live release for common incidental species like octopus or sheepshead [5]
  • Traps may damage benthic habitat via dragging and scraping - extent unknown [5]

The Seafood


Edible portions

  • Body (excepting gray, feathery lungs and sand sac between the eyes) [6]
  • Coral (roe) found within the body is a delicacy, but is sensitive to toxins [6]
  • Most meat located in tail, some at base of antennae [6]
  • Often overlooked - thin strips of meat from tail flippers [6,7]
  • Sold fresh live and whole, or frozen in raw tails or meat [8]

Description of meat

  • Soft-textured meat with delicate, sweet flavor [8]

Culinary uses

  • Popular steamed, barbecued, roasted, or grilled, often basted with butter [6,7]
  • Complements pastas, bisques [6,7]
  • Once meat is removed, body and legs can be simmered for stock [7]

Nutritional information  

  • 1 lobster, cooked with moist heat

Toxicity report

  • Moderate mercury levels, young children should avoid consuming more than four meals per month [8]

Seasonal availability

  • Fall through winter months [8]


[1]Engle, John Marlin. Ecology and growth of juvenile California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus (Randall). Diss. University of Southern California, 1979.

[2]Jaffe Laboratory for Underwater Imaging.  California Spiny Lobster. 2009. www.jaffeweb.ucsd.edu/node/spinylobster

[3]  California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Invertebrates of Interest: California Spiny Lobster. Available: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/invertebrate/lobster.asp

[4]California Ocean Science Trust.  Spiny Lobster (Panulirus interruptus). 2013. Available: www.calost.org/pdf/science-initiatives/rapid-assessments/Spiny%20Lobster...

[5] Matthew Iacchei , Patrick Robinson & Kathy Ann Miller (2005) Direct impacts of commercial and recreational fishing on spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus, populations at Santa Catalina Island, California, United States, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research.

[6] Shaw, Hank.  Cooking With Spiny Lobster. 2014. www.fishcooking.about.com/od/shrimpcrablobster/p/spiny_lobster.htm

[7] Ocean Enterprises. Reasons Why You Should Catch and Cook California Spiny Lobsters. 2013. www.oceanenterprises.com/blog/top-reasons-why-you-should-catch-and-cook-...

[8]FishChoice. Spiny Lobster (California). 2013. http://www.fishchoice.com/buying-guide/spiny-lobster-california