Taking of female lobsters, crabs banned
When lobster and crab season opens next Friday, Hawaii fishers have a new rule to follow: Take only male crustaceans.
"Hawaiian lobster is like so many other natural resources -- it is being depleted to the extent that future generations may not be able to enjoy it," said state Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe).
Hee sponsored Act 77, which prohibits the harvest of female spiny lobsters, Kona crabs or Samoan crabs. "This law is intended to feed the next generation" by allowing the females of the species to reproduce, Hee said.
Whether the change yields its desired result -- more lobster and crab -- will take years to determine, said Francis Oishi, recreational fisheries program manager for the state Division of Aquatic Resources.
For decades, state law has prohibited taking female crustaceans with eggs, Oishi said.
"It was easy that way -- you don't have to tell people what egg pouches look like," he said. "Now it's going to be a little more difficult to tell the difference between male and female."
Pamphlets distributed to fishing supply stores and dive shops this summer use drawings to help fishers tell the males from females, as do photographs on the division Web site at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/ dar/fish_regs/mvf.htm.
But when you are underwater with a mask on, sometimes it is hard to see the little claw-shaped tips on the fifth walking leg of the females, said Randy Fallau, of Aaron's Dive Shop in Kailua. The identifying legs could even be gone, he said.
Still, Fallau said he supports the new restriction. "Lobsters are kind of hard to find these days," he said. "I rarely see them, and I dive in some good places that they should be in."
Fallau said his only concern is whether no taking of females will be enough to revive lobster populations. "It might be too little too late," he said.
Perry Bateman, executive chef at Mama's Fish House on Maui, which has at times served local lobsters in the past, said he might cull them from his menu entirely this year.
"I'm really happy that they're making the regulations that they're making," Maui-raised Bateman said. He has been so concerned about the dwindling supply of Hawaiian lobster that he has been known to buy live female lobsters from fishermen and put them back in the ocean instead of on the menu.