Lobster season opened this week, giving free divers a three-month window to catch the coveted but protected species.
The opportunity to catch lobster is restricted to breath-hold divers, typically using a noose, between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28.
Divers are also limited to catching three lobsters per day, or six per boat, in order to maintain healthy populations.
The opening day of lobster season in Cayman has become a beloved tradition for some, like Simon Boxall and Nick Joseph, who have looked forward to the day as an annual event since they were kids.
“I think the beginning of lobster season every year is one of those great Caymanian traditions. There is no more important day in my annual calendar,” said Mr. Boxall.
Along with their friend Chris Bouck, the pair snagged their limit of six lobster and six conch on Tuesday.
After years of recreational lobster fishing, Mr. Boxall says he knows the right spots to look. He can hold his breath for around a minute at a time, which is long enough to catch lobster in shallow waters.
He said the short season was necessary to keep the tradition alive for future generations.
“I think the laws help protect the environment but it is also about allowing people to continue to enjoy things like fishing,” he said.
John Bothwell, senior research officer with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, said the length of the season had been reduced over the years because lobsters were in high demand.
He said, “It is about trying to balance people’s ability to use the resource with maintaining the resource as well.”
In the old days, he said, lobster were so plentiful that fishermen could catch them without getting out of their boats.
He believes the current restrictions are sufficient to maintain a sustainable lobster population.
Mr. Bothwell said more research may be needed on lobster numbers, but he believes the current restrictions are enough to maintain the populations.
“It appears to be working out right now,” he said. “As long as people are taking sustainably, it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. People should feel comfortable with it.
“Taking for yourself and your family and friends and having a cookout is great. What we want to discourage is people taking large numbers and making a business of it because the population can’t support that.”
As well as lobster, a number of other marine species are subject to seaonal fishing restrictions.
The Department of Environment this week issued the following guidelines:
Open season is from Dec. 1 to Feb. 29
Catch limit is three per person or six per boat, per day, whichever is less
Minimum size is a six-inch tail length
No taking of lobsters from Marine Parks or Replenishment Zones.
Open season is from Nov. 1 to April 30
Catch limit is five per person or 10 per boat, per day, whichever is less
Purchase limit (for conch taken from Cayman waters) is five conch per day
No taking of conch from Marine Parks or Replenishment Zones.
It is illegal to take Nassau Grouper from the grouper holes until the end of March
The minimum size for grouper is 12 inches.
Open season is Nov. 1 to April 30
Catch or purchase limit is two and one-half gallons of whelks in the shell, or two and one-half pounds of processed whelks (out of their shells)
Bleeding teeth, chitons (sea beef) and periwinkles may not be taken at any time.
Anyone seeing individuals poaching marine life or committing any other offenses can call 911; or the DoE officers on Grand Cayman on 916-4271, on Cayman Brac on 926-0136, or on Little Cayman on 926-2342.