Divers vs. Hoop-Netters
Dust-ups aren’t confined to competing hoop-netters. Divers and hoop-netters also butt heads, as we witnessed on the second night of the 2011/12 season while photographing the melee outside the breakwater protecting the Marina del Rey harbor mouth.
More than a dozen hoop-netters were working the 700-yard-long wall in the early evening when a boat pulled in and dropped off a pair of scuba divers. The divers swam directly for the base of the breakwater where the hoop nets lay. VHF radio chatter grew intense and profane between the netters and the dive boat, and one net boat harassed the divers by following and hovering over the bubbles. No one was hurt, despite the menacing hoop-netter and threats to settle the matter back at the dock.
Curiously, divers don’t seem to mind hoop-netters. As one diver put it, “I love hoop-netters. They gather up the lobsters for me in nice baskets.” He was only half joking.
Hoop-netters, on the other hand, claim that divers do more than pluck lobsters from the nets. There are Internet accounts of retrieving slashed nets after divers have swum through an area.
All of this over a crustacean, albeit one of the most spectacular of its kind. The California spiny lobster can grow to weights of 20 pounds, though most legal bugs are much smaller — usually around two pounds. Many say the tail meat is the sweetest and most succulent of all lobsters, though others say the meat of Maine lobster is more tender. Market prices for California spinys fluctuate but reach as high as $35 a pound for live lobster. On top of this, demand by Asian buyers is accelerating.
Supply is relatively low. The commercial harvest of California spiny lobster averages about 660,000 pounds annually, with the recreational harvest estimated between 198,000 and 396,000 pounds. This is a drop in the kettle compared with the 115-million-pound annual harvest of Atlantic lobster. It is the comparative dearth, delicious meat and high value of California spinys that send boaters into battle.