Do you every wonder how that succulent juicy lobster tail arrived on your plate? Catching lobster is a little bit more complicated that catching a fish and involves a few more steps. We asked some local lobster fishermen to give us the low down on how to catch a lobster.
So, the million dollar question.. how do you catch a lobster?
There are two ways to catch a lobster: using a trap or using a hook. The trap method is used in shallower water in areas such as Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The second method is normally used further afield. Lighters (a 30ft sailing sloop) sets sail for 10 to 15 days at a time with 6 to 7 fishermen and a boat load of ice. These fishermen skin dive the outer reef and atolls and catch lobster with a hook stick or gaff.
What do the traps look like and how do they work?
The lobster trap is made from strips of wood from the palmetto palm. They are un baited and have a funnel on the top. They are set in the open seagrass. The Caribbean or spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) which is nocturnal leaves the safety of the coral reef to find food and graze on these seagrass beds. As soon as the sun comes up they are looking for a hiding space. They aren’t the brightest of creatures and if they see any chance of shade such as a trap they will scurry down the funnel and then won’t be able to get out.
The shade trap is made of palmetto and corrugated roofing. The lobsters hide under these shades. Tin Drums are also used as traps.
Who makes the traps?
The traps are made by the fishermen themselves. This skill has been handed down from generation to generation.
When do you start to lay traps and how do you know where to put them?
At the beginning of June the traps, old and new are put in the sea to soak. This makes it easier for them to sink. About a week before the beginning of lobster season the traps are situated. Each lobster fisherman has a fixed territory which is usually inherited from previous generations and on the whole other fishermen respect this. The secret to location and pattern of laying the traps is known only to the individual.
How big should the lobster be?
A whole lobster, must measure three inches or more from the eye to the start of the tail; the lobster tail should weigh at least 4 ounces. There are big fines for being caught with undersized, spotted (which means the lobster will soon lay eggs ) or those with eggs .
How early do you get up on the first day of lobster season and how long do you catch lobster for?
At the break of day until about 10 am or until you have a good catch
Do you go out every day during lobster season?
Normally its every few days to check on the traps. With a fast powerboat checking your traps doesn’t take that long.
Where do you sell your catch?
In times gone by the catch would be sold at the Fishermen’s Co-operatives which existed in the major towns of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia and others. In the past lobster was a big export and here in San Pedro a cargo plane full of ice would fly in to take the catch. Today the tourism industry has changed all that. The co-operatives don’t really exist as before and fishermen tend to have an agreement with a hotel or restaurant, who will buy all their catch.
Belize is famous for its spiny lobster (called crayfish locally), whose harvest season begins annually on June 15th. This date also marks the celebration of all things lobster including three festivals held in three Belizean communities.
The beach towns of Caye Caulker and Placencia have traditionally had lobsterfests and in recent years, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye has added one to its calendar as well. If you are lucky visit Belize in June, you will be able to experience at least one of these delicious events.
San Pedro Lobsterfest is a week-long event usually starting with a kick-off party and culminating in a grand fiesta in Central Park. During the week, there are events planned all over town including a lobster crawl that involves partaking in lobster delicacies and libations in a series of establishments on a given night. One can obtain a “lobster passport”, where each day a different island establishment is represented and acquisition of a lobster “stamp” in this passport renders the holder eligible for the grand prize, drawn on the final night’s event in Central Park. The prize is usually vacation for the following year that includes tickets from Tropic Air. The final block party is a lobster lovers delight. Front Street is closed to traffic and most of the local restaurants have booths serving their rendition of the tasty crustacian. There is a competition for the best dish so culinary imagination knows no bounds. There is some serious deliciousness to be found here, all accompanied by local musicians to give the real party atmosphere.
Caye Caulker lobsterfest is a weekend event. This is a local Belizean favorite, and people flock here from all over the country. Stalls and restaurants everywhere offer anything from lobster tacos to barbecued lobster.
Placencia’s festival is also a weekend event and, in their own words, promises “a mega beach party like no other in Belize “ with live music, family games, a legendary raffle and of course more lobster than it is possible to eat.
If you want to enjoy lobster, then come during the open season because between February 15th and June 14th, the crustacean is off the menu. This means that fishermen are not allowed to catch it, restaurants are not allowed to sell it and it is illegal to have in your possession. Whilst this is harsh for the many tourists and locals, it is necessary to preserve this valuable resource for the future.
If you are planning a trip to Belize and you love lobster then June is definitely the month to come visit. Book your travel with Tropic Air.