filed under Seafood

Meet the California Spiny Lobster

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Photo by kozy and dan kitchens

When most of us think of lobster, the image of the bright red crustacean with giant claws strewn out in front, glistening on a plate with a side of melted butter comes to mind. Over the course of the summer, coastal communities all over Southern California celebrate these clawed American or “Maine” lobsters from New England in a series of Lobster Fests. Meanwhile, the clawless, native California spiny lobster is nowhere to be found.

California spiny lobster is officially in session, yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find festivals held in their honor or “Surf and Turf” specials featuring the local spinys. Because both are considered cold water lobsters, there is no overwhelming difference in taste between the locals and their imported counterparts from the Northeast. Arguments in favor of American lobster are the claw meat and price, while California spinys tend to yield more edible meat pound for pound. In regards to sustainability, both fisheries are well-managed to ensure healthy stocks and minimize impacts on their surrounding environments. So why don’t we see California spiny lobster on more menus in Southern California? Supply!

To give some prospective, the spiny lobster trap fishery in California produced just over 0.715 million pounds in 2010. The American lobster fishery produced more than 115.4 million pounds that same year. Given the limited supply of California spinys, they cost more. The result, instead of savoring and celebrating local and responsibly harvested lobster straight from the boat, we are utilizing more fossil fuels to export it while we import responsible, but not-so-fresh American lobster from the other side of the continent!

We can all agree this is silly. The local movement is growing and more and more, with chefs always looking for local seasonal items for their menus. Some are finding ways to include local delicacies such as the California spiny lobster with special limited edition menus, or they’re creating new and inspired dishes that feature the lobster rather than slapping the whole thing on a plate flanked by a steak and butter.

Last week, Huntington Beach, California’s SlapFish featured local spinys in their signature Lobsticle™ appetizer. The recently named Best Seafood Restaurant in Orange County will continue to highlight spinys throughout the season when and where they can. Chef Paddy Glennon of the Culinary Liberation Front will join in the celebration of local lobster by performing a live cooking demonstration with a local lobster fisherman featuring California spiny lobster at the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Sea Fare event. Seafood for the Future is also collaborating with Edible Westside Magazine and a well-known LA restaurant to feature local spiny lobster on a special limited menu later in the season. Details will be revealed in the winter issue of the magazine.

This winter, show your support for local seafood and the restaurants that are thinking outside the box to feature California spiny lobster. You can also purchase them for yourself to impress your guests at holiday parties at the Newport Dory Fleet, Ventura Harbor Fisherman’s Market, and through the Santa Barbara Community Seafood community-supported fishery (CSF).

*Please check websites for availability.


Kim Thompson is the program manager for the Seafood for the Future (SFF) program at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. SFF is a nonprofit seafood advisory program dedicated to promoting healthy and responsible seafood choices in Southern California. The program works with restaurants, fishermen, seafood purveyors, government agencies and other nonprofit groups to execute its mission. Visit to learn more about SFF partners and recommendations.