Beyond being a delicious dish, the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) has been crucial both for the marine ecosystem and for several generations of humans, stated Gonzalo Merediz Alonso, the executive director of Friends of Sian Ka’an.
He emphasized that the Caribbean lobster, also known as the “cabezona,” “langosta burro,” or “langosta espinosa del Caribe,” is the most important productive species in Quintana Roo.
“It represents the highest fishery production in the entire state, being a migratory species that moves along the Caribbean,” he said.
He explained that during the day, this crustacean seeks shaded areas, which has significantly aided fishing, such as in Punta Allen. The fishermen there create underwater enclosures on the seafloor, known as “casitas cubanas,” to attract the lobster.
He said that this mechanism generates shade where lobsters can enter and exit freely.
“So, during the day, the lobster takes refuge in that shade, allowing the fisherman to arrive and capture it easily. If the fisherman didn’t go fishing that day, the lobster can freely leave at night and continue its migration without being caught,” he explained.
He noted that these are benign traps that facilitate fishing while ensuring the survival of lobsters that are not caught.
He said that this method is crucial for the sustainability of fishing in Sian Ka’an because the fishermen are very careful to ensure that fishing does not occur outside the closed season, which is from March to July.
He explained that lobster fishermen also respect size regulations, ensuring that the captured lobsters are adults that have had the opportunity to reproduce and avoiding catching females carrying eggs.
“Respecting lobsters that have not yet reproduced and pregnant females guarantees the species’ reproduction and resource sustainability,” he added.
He considered that after several decades of lobster fishing, there is a positive balance, achieving economic and social development for fishing communities and conservation through sustainable fishing.
Among its main characteristics, he detailed that this lobster can reach up to 60 centimeters in length, has two large spines pointing forward like horns, and can reach depths of up to 90 meters.
He explained that this species migrates in large groups, forming long lines along the seafloor, and these lines can consist of up to 50 lobsters. They are generally olive green or brown, with scattered cream-colored spots on their shells and four to six large cream-yellow spots on their abdomens, lacking pincers.
They have thin antennas on the first pair, black or dark brown in color, and a second pair longer than the body, covered with spines pointing forward. They prefer areas with some form of coverage, such as around coral reefs or artificial structures and among mangrove roots.
He said that the spiny lobster can live up to 20 years, and they reach reproductive maturity at the age of two, with an average gestation period of one month.
He indicated that this crustacean feeds on algae, snails, crabs, and other organisms that live on the seafloor. Its presence serves as an indicator of reef health and biodiversity.
Alejandro Velázquez, who inherited the profession of lobster fishing from his father, commented that he has seen a great variety of specimens of this species. He pointed out that they have stopped using hooks for several years and now use traps placed on the seafloor, followed by nets to capture them and bring them alive to the boats.
“We adapted to the so-called ‘casitas cubanas’ and the adoption of the net to catch lobsters instead of hooks, and that is easier for us,” explained this fisherman from the Punta Allen community in the municipality of Tulum.
He specified that the fishermen have two measures: 400 grams or 13.5 centimeters for the lobster to be suitable for capture in the area.
“When we sold only the tail, we measured 13.5 centimeters in length of the tail, and weighing that size gives us 400 grams of lobster. It is important to consider that we are in a bay, and our lobsters are not as large as those in Cozumel or Xcalak, which are 600 grams and above. These measures are what we have in the area, and we have respected them for decades,” he said.