Science Questions

Why are there no lobsters in the Pacific?

Sun, 14th Mar 2010

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Question

Colin Mackenzie asked:

I live in California. I like lobsters. Why are there lots of lobsters in the Atlantic and none in the Pacific. Could they be introduced here and thrive, if not why not.

 

Answer

Helen - Well, I'm afraid in fact that there are lobsters in the Pacific.  In fact, there are various different species of spiny lobsters which don't have big claws like the American lobster, Homerus americanus, which does have big claws.  Thatís one from the Atlantic but there are some spiny lobsters including the California or red rock lobster, Panulirus interruptus, and thereís also one called the green spiny lobster, and they do live on the Pacific, from California, down through into to Peru and out into the Pacific as far as the Galapagos Islands.  There are various species that do live there.  I assume when you say you like lobsters, you like to eat them, and thatís fair enough - they can be quite tasty, but some populations of lobsters around the world are very heavily fished and therefore, arenít lots of them around for us to carry on eating. And that could well be the case in California for some of these species.  Although in fact, down in Mexico, in Baja California, there is a fishery for the red rock lobster which, about five years ago, was labelled as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. This means that fishermen down there are keeping within sustainable catch levels so there should still be a healthy population in years to come.  So if you do want to eat Pacific lobsters, I would definitely send you to Mexico to try out the red rock lobsters down there.

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Colin Mackenzie asked the Naked Scientists: I live in California. I like lobsters. Why are there lots of lobsters in the Atlantic and none in the Pacific. Could they be introduced here and thrive, if not why not. What do you think? Colin Mackenzie, Wed, 13th Jan 2010

There are lobsters in the Pacific.

Spiny Lobsters (No claws)
Red Reef Lobster (Hawaii) (Clawed) Don_1, Wed, 13th Jan 2010

I can confirm that. My son-in-law catches them off Catalina Island quite often  Geezer, Wed, 13th Jan 2010

Just a thought, Homarus Americanus (North American Lobster) thrives in shallow waters. Most of the west coast gets very deep very quickly. So maybe just the environment prevents them from propogating. Another thought is that if they were introduced into the pacific and began to multiply, how would that affect the ecology, competition with opiellio crab and so forth. DavidB, Sun, 30th May 2010

I don't feel the answers here are actually answering the question that was posed here. Here is the rundown. The "lobsters" in the Pacific Ocean aren't actually lobsters. They are unrelated crustaceans, that like shrimp and crayfish resemble the real thing, enough so to be called lobster by their common names. This confusion has led to more than one lawsuit http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4728361/ In that case, a chain sells a shrimp-like crustacean and labels it as lobster, even got FDA approval as lobster is such a broadly used term in our society. There have in fact been many documented cases in which lobsters were introduced to the Pacific, were able to live but didn't appear to procreate. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004734 Lobsters live in very specific areas, they require cold, rocky water in shallow bays. Maine is nothing but rocky, shallow, protected bays and has more coastline than all of California. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001801.html Lobsters also migrant out into the open ocean each winter to get away from the storms and surf of winter that would otherwise smash them against the rocks. In California one may surf as it's mostly unprotected shoreline with lots of surf and sandy beaches, Maine has quiet, tranquil waters surrounded by rocks and the lobster flee whenever that is about to change each winter. In short, lobster just aren't adaptable enough to survive outside of their niche environment. Adam, Thu, 30th Dec 2010

USDA not FDA whoops Adam, Mon, 10th Jan 2011

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