Most Lobster Trap Escape Ports Deemed Illegal: One Santa Barbara Lobsterman Goes Gonzo Journalist

When Santa Barbara lobster fisherman Sam Shrout received a letter from the California Department of Fish and Game last month saying that they were going to start enforcing a 33-year-old law regulating the escape ports for short lobsters on his traps, he was noticeably angry. So angry he took to YouTube. The technical details of his plight may be a little esoteric, but his situation isn't: this is Shrout's livelihood.

Video by Victoria Minnich of Santa Barbara.

It wasn't that his 300-odd traps didn't have the escape ports, nor were the holes in the trap the wrong size--the interior measurements are required to be no less than 2 3/8-inches by 11 ½ inches--it was how the fisherman was attaching the ports. Shrout, like many of California's lobster fishermen, cuts a hole in the wire mesh he uses to build his traps and then uses the existing wire to wrap the escape port in.

Nancy Foley, Department of Fish and Game Enforcement Chief, couldn't be reached for comment about the letter, but according to Lieutenant Specialist Eric Kord, the method of attachment decreased the diameter of the escape port, as does the modern practice of building traps out of galvanized steel or coating the traps with vinyl to increase their durability. Some fishermen weld the escape ports into place, while others use hog rings. Apparently, only the few fishermen who used plastic escape ports, which can create drag and lift the traps off the sea floor, were considered compliant.

It was this inconsistency, and the increase of the vinyl-coated and galvanized traps over the past few years, says Kord, that prompted the letter. That Shrout's traps were deemed illegal came down to how section 9010 of the Fish and Game law was worded, or wasn't worded. How fishermen are supposed to attach the escape ports was never outlined, and the law was written long before the plastic ports were available.

On June 23, Southern District Assistant Chief Mike McBride and Lieutenant Kord met with a contingent of unhappy lobster fishermen to see if they could resolve the issue. Together the fisherman and the DFG drafted new legislation that outlined specifics of how the escape ports could be wrapped. After this legistlation got bogged down in committee, the Department of Fish and Game again worked with the fishermen to get the law tacked onto a separate bill, which will, the fisherman hope, go into effect on or before January 1st, 2010.

With the season for California Spiny Lobster set to start in October, the push to get the law on the books is crucial for these fishermen. Until then, California's lobster fishermen have a choice. Change their traps to adhere to the letter of the current law though most of those traps will be legal if the law goes through, or risk expensive citations and possible seizure of their traps if they are out of compliance.

Leah Greenstein writes the food blog SpicySaltySweet.com and is the co-author of the Food Blog Code of Ethics.


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