Catching Methods

American lobsters (H. americanus), European lobsters (H. gammarus), and spiny lobsters (P. argus) are primarily caught by traps (also called pots or creels) (14-17), but trawling of lobsters is legal in U.S. waters, except for in Maine (18). The recently observed practice of displaced New England cod fishermen turning to trawling for lobster is causing a great concern for the future state of the lobster resource (18,19). Some spiny lobsters are also caught by trawl or by diving (13). Norway lobsters (AT. norvegicus) are primarily caught by trawl (20).

Traditionally, in both Europe and North America, half-round (semicylindrical) traps, made with wooden laths, were the common type of lobster traps used (15,17,21,22). Regardless of its shape, each trap contains one or more funneled entrances made of wood or netting (21,22), with the spacing of the laths set to allow undersized lobsters to escape (23). Because European lobstermen have learned that the traditional North American parlor pot is much more productive than their traditional single-chamber pots, they have introduced parlor pots into the European lobster fishery (13,24); some of these parlor pots are extremely large and made of galvanized metal (25). Similarly, in addition to the traditional wooden traps, metal traps are now also used by North American lobstermen (15,26).

A lobster trap made of wood with synthetic twine, metal and wire, or plastic does not biodegrade after the trap becomes lost on the fishing grounds. Therefore, these traps ghost fish much longer than the conventional wooden lob ster traps with cotton netting at the ends (15,27). Use of nonbiodegradable traps has led to state regulations regarding both biodegradable panels and escape vents (14,23).

Before being lowered to the bottom, each lobster trap is weighted with a flat stone or concrete and baited with fish such as herring, mackerel (28), or flatfish (29). At least with spiny lobsters, traps with live sublegal-sized lobsters used as decoys caught three times as many lobsters as did traps without lobster decoys (16). All lowered traps are attached to brightly painted wooden or plastic floats on the surface. The length of time the traps are left on the bottom depends on the location, the number of traps a fisherman has, the rate of deterioration of the bait, and weather (21). Maximum productivity is obtained from daily lifting of traps (14), and mechanical hauling is often a necessity (30).

In addition to being caught by standard baited wooden or plastic traps lowered to the bottom (31), by trawls, or by divers using spears (13), spiny lobsters are also caught commercially by Caribbean fishermen using concrete slabs kept a few inches off the bottom (32). Seeking shelter, the lobsters go underneath the concrete slabs. The fisherman dives to the bottom, taps the concrete slab with a gaff, and grabs the lobsters as fast as they crawl out from underneath the concrete (32).

With Norway lobsters, which live mainly in or on muddy bottoms (20), the spread of the trawl is a more important catching factor than the trawl's headline height (33). Consequently, the towing of two trawls simultaneously from a single stern trawler has proved to be a very efficient method of catching Norway lobsters (33).

As soon as lobsters are caught, the length of the carapace is measured (15,23,34) and the sublegal-sized lobsters are returned to the ocean. With lobsters that have large claws, the claws are immobilized using twine, string, or rubber bands, not wooden pegs (35,36).

On small boats on which live holding is not practical, North American (or European) lobsters are kept as cool and damp as possible so that the lobsters are all alive when the fishermen return to port (36) a few hours later. Larger North American lobster boats often have tanks of seawater that will keep the lobsters alive until they return to port (37). Similarly, a large proportion of spiny lobsters (P. argus) are also kept onboard in wells of seawater and landed alive when the vessels return to port (38). Large Norway lobsters (S30 lobster/kg) are often landed alive and sold whole, whereas those that are too small or damaged to be sold whole are tailed onboard the vessel and then washed and stored in ice (39).

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