Spiny Lobster

The Fishery Management Plan for Spiny Lobster in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic manages spiny lobster from North Carolina to Texas. However, the commercial fishery for spiny lobster, and to a very large extent, the recreational fishery, occurs off South Florida and primarily in the Florida Keys.  In order to streamline a management process that involves both State and Federal jurisdictions, a protocol was developed that allows the State of Florida to adopt proposed rules through their management process.  Provided the rules are consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP and both Councils concur, a regulatory amendment is prepared, a comment period is held and NOAA Fisheries can implement the rule in a manner that is more timely than a FMP amendment.

Current regulations in the spiny lobster fishery in Florida include a commercial trap reduction program, a closed season, a special recreational 2-day season before the commercial season, recreational trip limits, gear prohibitions, and prohibition on the possession of egg-bearing lobsters. In Federal waters off the Carolinas and Georgia, harvesting is allowed year-round but harvest for all fishermen is limited to 2 per person per trip, and no “berried” (egg bearing) females can be harvested.  Area closures for the commercial trap fishery in the Florida Keys have also been established to help protect threatened corals.

Guide to Spiny Lobster Closed Areas for Commercial Trap Fishing (posted 11/15/14)

Fishery Management Plan for Spiny Lobster in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic (1982)
Included provisions to protect long-run yields and prevent depletion of lobster stocks; Increased yield, reduced user group and gear conflicts, acquired the necessary information to manage the fishery and to promote efficiency in the fishery; and Implemented a minimum size limit, gear limitations, possession limits, and seasonal restrictions.

Amendment 1 (1987)
Required a commercial permit; Limited possession of undersized lobsters as attractants and required a live well; Modified recreational possession and season regulations; Modified closed season regulations; Required the immediate release of egg-bearing lobsters; Modified the minimum size limit; Required a permit to separate the tail at sea; and Prohibited possession or stripping of egg-bearing slipper lobsters.

Amendment 2 (1989)
Modified the problems/issues and objectives of the fishery management plan; Modified the statement of optimum yield; Established a protocol and procedure for an enhanced cooperative state/council management system; and Added to the vessel safety and habitat sections of the fishery management plan.

Amendment 3 (1990)
Defined overfishing and clarified that NMFS may charge the administrative cost of issuing permits.

Regulatory Amendment 1 (1992)
Established a trap certification program for the EEZ off Florida; Reduced the number of undersize lobster that could be held aboard a vessel for use of attractants to no more than fifty or one per trap on board; Specified allowable gear for use in the EEZ off Florida; Limited fishermen diving at night to the recreational bag limit; Required divers to measure lobster while in the water: and Specified uniform trap and buoy numbers.

Regulatory Amendment 2 (1993)
Changed the days for the special recreational season in the EEZ off Florida; Prohibited night-time harvest off Monroe County, Florida during special recreational season; Specified allowable gear during special recreational season; and Provided for different bag limits during the special recreational season off the Florida Keys and the EEZ off other areas of Florida.

Amendment 4 (December 1994)
Allowed the harvest of two lobsters per person per day for all fishermen year round, but only north of the Florida/Georgia border.

Amendment 5 (1998)
Identified Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and EFH-Habitat Areas of Particular Concern for spiny lobster.

Amendment 6 (1998)
Amended the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) as required to make definitions of MSY, OY, overfishing and overfished consistent with "National Standard Guidelines"; identified and defined fishing communities and addressed bycatch management measures.

Generic Amendment (1998) (no Spiny Lobster amendment number)
Identified Essential Fish Habitat (EFH); described the distribution and relative abundance of juvenile and adult spiny lobster for offshore, near-shore and estuarine habitats in the Gulf.

Generic SFA Amendment (1999) (no Spiny Lobster amendment number)
Proposed revision to biological thresholds. MSY, OY and MSST were disapproved because they were based on transitional spawning stock biomass per recruit. Provided fishing community assessement information for Monroe County, Florida.

Amendment 7 (2002)
Developed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.  Created two no-use marine reserves in the Tortugas.

Regulatory Amendment 3 (2002)
Set regulations regarding the use of undersized lobster as attractants in the Florida EEZ.

Amendment 8 (2008)
Set minimum size limit and regulations for importation of spiny lobster.

Amendment 9 (2009)
Provided spatial information for EFH and EFH-Habitat Areas of Particular Concern designations for species in the Spiny Lobster FMP.

Amendment 10 (2011)
Establishes annual catch limits and accountability measures for Caribbean spiny lobster; removes other species from the fishery management unit (smoothtail spiny lobster, spotted spiny lobster, Spanish slipper lobster, ridged slipper lobster); defines maximum sustainable yield; sets annual catch limits and accountability measures; considers sector allocations; updates the protocol for enhanced cooperative management; modifies the regulations regarding the use of undersized lobster as bait as well as tailing permit requirements; and addresses the removal of abandoned traps in Florida waters. The amendment became effective January 3, 2012.  Final Rule

Amendment 11(includes appendices) (2012)
Establishes measures to help protect threatened and endandered species in a manner that complies with the measures established in the 2009 biological opinion on the spiny lobster fishery.  The amendment creates 60 new closed areas for the commercial lobster trap fishery in the Florida Keys in order to help protect staghorn and elkhorn coral from gear impacts  The Council approved Amendment 11 during its March 2012 meeting.  The amendment was approved by the Secretary of Commerce on July 27, 2012 and the area closures implemented on August 27, 2012.   See Fishery Bulletin      Notice of Availability (NOA)   Proposed Rule   Final Rule

Regulatory Amendment 4 (2018)

  • Spiny lobster Annual Catch Limit (ACL) and recreational traps

Effective July 2018:  Proposed Rule   Final Rule

Regulatory Amendment 13 (2019)

  • Spiny lobster commercial harvesters using bully net gear:
    • must have a bully net permit from Florida,
    • must mark boats with the harvester’s Florida bully net permit number using reflective paint or other reflective material,
    • are prohibited from having trap pullers onboard,
    • are prohibited from the simultaneous possession of a bully net and any underwater breathing apparatus (not including dive masks or snorkels) onboard a vessel used to harvest or transport spiny lobster for commercial purposes.
  • Commercial spiny lobster daily vessel harvest and possession limits:
    • 250 per day/vessel for spiny lobsters harvested by bully net in or from all federal waters off Florida,
    • 250 per day/vessel for spiny lobsters harvested by diving in or from federal waters only off Broward, Dade, Monroe, Collier, and Lee Counties, Florida.
  • Existing language in spiny lobster federal regulations that incorporates Florida regulations by reference has been updated, which includes a new commercial trap soak start time.
    • Commercial spiny lobster traps may be baited and placed in the water beginning on the Saturday immediately following the recreational mini season.

Effective August 2019:  Proposed Rule   Final Rule