Lobster- Costs and availibility
Caught as they have been for years, with lobster traps and skin diving, no one can tell how plentiful or not the season will be and from past seasons the numbers have been dwindling.
At the open of the season, June 15th, (when you can eat lobster, fresh or otherwise) lobster sells for $20.00 Bze per pound. After the initial rush of the season the price per pound stabilizes around $18.00bze. Buyers will sometime get a way with a minimum offer of $17.00.
Today, (6/28/01) the going price is $17.00Bze/Lbs in Belize City and $20.00/Lbs in San Pedro. They are available in San Pedro at he Fishermen's Co-Operative, from individual fishermen and the various small fish markets.
Conch season is September 30-July 1st, and shrimp doesn't really have a season but very hard to get from June-August. Stone Crab is available year round.
Second grade lobster which is illegal is sometimes available at $10.00 per pound. But be advised that the penalties are steep for being in possession of second grade lobster.
A lobster must weight 4 ounces and above for it to be legal and purchased at any cooperative or store. Second grade lobster is normally returned to vendors with little supervision or reprimand by the appropriate authorities on the grounds that individual vendors or fishermen will use such lobster for personal consumption.
The bottom line is that a lobster meal ranges from $40.00 to $55.00 in most restaurants.
Prior to 2003, no lobsters at all was available in the off season. In 2003, the Belize Tourism Board, Fisheries Department, and the Belize Hotel Association entered into a legal Memorandum of Understanding for a pilot program offering lobster during the closed months from February 15 to June 15. This is not lobster caught out of season, but rather lobster caught and readied for export. Participating hotels paid U.S. market prices plus contributed $3 per pound for the monitoring of the agreement. We shall see how this goes.
Every year in July there is a Lobster Fest. Hundreds of Belizeans will be catching boats heading out to one of two destinations, Caye Caulker or Placencia, but they'll only have one thing on their minds: Lobster. At a whopping $20 plus a pound, the crayfish has become a Belizean delicacy few have the luxury to enjoy. But over the next days, more than a few restaurants will have lobster on the menu and cooked up in more ways than one. Tonight we'd like to thank the fishermen who work the waters to bring up this golden dish. we'll show you the lobster fisherman's life, above and below the surface.
Its scientific name is "Paneluris Argus" and it belongs to the family of crustaceans. In Belize, however, we call it lobster or crayfish. Elsewhere it goes by the name warm water spiny lobster, rock lobster or Caribbean lobster to distinguish it from its larger and better-known cousin found in the deep cold waters off Canada and the northeastern United States. But whatever you call this elusive creature its importance to the economy of Belize cannot be overstated.
The lobster trap used by the majority of Belizean fishermen is a local adaptation of the trap used in the north Atlantic off New England. The widespread use of traps has made it necessary for fishermen to claim and work fix territories or pieces of water. The piece may range from a few acres to over a hundred, each fisherman knows the exact boundaries of his area and although this does not stop an occasional dispute from arising. A fisherman may acquire a lobstering ground by laying claim to waters that are no longer or never have been fished. Often an aging fisherman may pass on his territory to a son, a nephew or a friend and it is not uncommon for a family to work the same waters for generations.
The traps are not marked as such although one or two markers may be placed against which the fishermen may line up a particular feature on land. The traps will then be arranged in a pattern known to him alone. There are as many secrets of trap locations as there are fishermen. Traps are set in the clear shallow waters between the reef and the mainland, usually at depths of less than 20 feet. Once set at the beginning of the season the traps are checked every few days.
One fisherman may have several hundred traps and using a fast outboard powered skiff he can check as many as a hundred each day. To more easily locate his traps a fisherman may look over the side of his skiff with a glass. When he sees what he is looking for a long hook stick is lowered over the side and once snared, the trap, hopefully containing several lobsters, is brought to the surface and into the boat. A small door at the top is opened and the lobsters removed. Those found to be under the legal size, soft shelled, are spotted or with eggs are thrown back into the water. After inspecting the trap for damage and scrubbing it clean the door is once again nailed shut and reset in the same spot. By afternoon when a quantity of lobsters have been harvested the fishermen will go to a calm protected spot to separate the tails. They will be stored on ice before being transported back to the cooperatives processing plant.
The fishermen of the south rely exclusively on diving for their livelihood. Working with masks, fins and hook stick, diving for lobster is a strenuous task done best by young men like Brian Young, a member of the Placencia Producers Cooperatives.
Brian Young, Fisherman
Besides having a different type of sea body the waters of the south are also deeper and less flat than the north. There are also numerous patch reefs in the large area between the mainland and the reef.
Whether the catch is pulled on a lobster trap or arrives on the point of a hook stick it is quickly tailed and iced in preparation for a trip to the processing plant. It is a proud fisherman who arrives at his co-op with a large load of fresh seafood.
There are a handful of different species of lobster here in Belize. We have the Caribbean Spiny lobster, the Spotted Spiny lobster and three different Slipper lobsters. The Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulinus argus, is by far the most important species because of its relative abundance and commercial importance. This lobster does not have claws, but two very long antennae that often give away their hiding spot. They have beady black eyes on the top of their head and are locally called "bugs" because of their appearance. And the name is appropriate because they are in the same Phylum (Arthropoda) as all insects! This lobster is not actually red underwater, but more of a purple/rust color with tan and black markings. Only when boiled does the lobster turn red!
The Caribbean Spiny lobster takes 3-5 years to mature and can reach a maximum length of two feet, although sometimes they look a lot bigger underwater to the inexperienced eye! Because they are nocturnal, they are usually hiding under ledges or in crevices during the day, but your tour guide can sometimes coax them out of hiding for a good view. They can be found either snorkeling or diving as they range from 3-130 feet deep.
Lobster meat is of course, rich and delicious and they are heavily fished. Many fisherman set traps on the shoals, baiting them with cowhide and checking the traps every three-four days. Alternatively, fishermen free-dive, meaning no SCUBA, to depths of 70 feet (!) for these valuable commodities. In Belize, lobster are caught with a hook-stick: a long stick with a large hook on the end. The lobster is caught by sliding the stick under its soft belly and rapidly jerking the hook up and out---not as easy as it sounds! The lobster is actually a fast swimmer, and it swims backwards, so if you miss, it can skate over the reef instantly to another hiding spot!
Because the lobster migrates, it's difficult to get accurate population counts but one thing is for sure: their numbers are less than they used to be! For this reason Belize has a season and size limit for lobsters. Lobster season closes February 15 through June 15 during their mating/spawning season. And the minimum size is a 4 ounce tail.
When lobsters mate the male and female lie face to face, the male leaves a sticky fluid on the female's belly. This hardens into a black patch called a "tar spot". When you see a female with a tar spot you know she will soon lay eggs. The eggs are very bright orange and the female carries them beneath her tail. A lobster carrying eggs is called a "berried" lobster because the eggs look like thousands of tiny berries.
The female carries her eggs one to four weeks until they hatch. She protects them from being eaten by fish and she fans them with water. Lobster eggs need their mother: if the eggs are removed from the mother's tail they will die. How many eggs are produced is determined by the mother's size and age: the larger the female the more eggs she will produce, and it's not just directly proportional. In other words, a female with a caraspace (tail and midsection) length of 13 cm (5 in.) may produce three times more eggs than one with a 9 cm (3.5 in) caraspace.
Newly hatched lobsters look nothing like their parents. They have flat, clear bodies with long, thin legs. They do not crawl on the bottom but drift in the sea. Baby lobsters float in the sea for 6-12 months. Afterwards they go through a sudden change of shape called metamorphosis. After metamorphosis the flat body of the baby lobster changes shape into a small, young lobster. These lobsters can swim and head for shore. They settle in shallow, protected areas like mangroves or shallow reefs Soon after they settle their clear bodies become colored and they are now marked with pale yellow and dark brown.
As the lobsters grow older they move out from the mangroves to the coral reefs to breed and spawn. Lobsters actually molt as they grow larger, shedding their outer skin. When the lobsters reach sexual maturity they are approximately 20.5-25.5 cm (8-10 inches) from head to tail. Lobsters never stop growing and it is said they can live up to 40 years!
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT LOBSTERS: