East Coast Rock lobster Crayfish. (Panulirus homarus)

With thanks to www.kznwildlife.co.za


Rock lobsters or spiny lobsters are popularly known as crayfish, but should be distinguished from the freshwater crayfish, which are considerably less popular in restaurants! Rock lobsters like crabs, belong to the crustacean family and have a horny exoskeleton (carapace) but they have a long tail ending with a tail fan. The East Coast rock lobster is brick red with orange spines and blue-green markings on the head.

There are two horns next to their eyes but unlike other species, there are no spines between these horns. The rock lobsters that may be sold in restaurants are either West Coast rock lobsters (Panulirus lalandii) or deep-water rock lobsters (Palinurus spp.) both have spines between their horns.

The East Coast rock lobster occurs from central Mozambique and Madagascar to East London. They inhabit rocky reefs in the surf zone at depths of 1-36 meters.

The most important prey of the East Coast rock lobster is the brown mussel <i>(Perna perna)</i>. They sever the byssus threads that hold the mussel and can crush the thin edge of the shell using their mouthparts. They also feed on limpets and will scavenge on the seabed.

Rock lobsters grow slowly, reaching sexual maturity after approximately 3 years when their carapace is 50-60 mm long. The legal size limit is 65 mm, to ensure that animals caught have had a chance to breed. If a rock lobster loses a leg or feeler, a new one is grown but then their overall growth is slower. It is therefore important not to damage undersize rock lobsters. Try to determine if an animal is the right size before attempting to catch it.

Breeding occurs in summer and that is why we have a closed season from 1 November to the end of February: to protect the lobsters while they are brooding their eggs so these can hatch and replenish our stocks. Male rock lobsters place a packet of sperm on the underbelly of females. When the female is ready to lay eggs, she scratches open the packet to fertilise her eggs and then places them on the paddles (pleopods) under her tail. The eggs are tended there until they hatch. The larvae spend about five months in the currents out at sea and undergo metamorphosis 11 times before returning inshore. Larger female rock lobsters produce three times more eggs than smaller females.

In KwaZulu-Natal, rock lobsters may only be collected by permitted recreational harvesters. This sector collect 138 000 to 450 000 kg of rock lobster each year.

The East Coast rock lobster stock is managed using a closed season, size limits, bag limits and gear limits. It is also illegal to possess any rock lobster carrying eggs


EC Rock Lobster, Crays to us locals, are being openly sold in restaurants. How can this be stopped? There is a van that cruises the northern area of Transkei, buying up ALL crays the locals can provided. Most of these are undersized. This can only lead to the devastation of the species. I dived at Mbotyi recently and size crays are almost impossible to find. We were offered crays on numerous occasions, and these were almost all undersized. While I understand that these people are starving and need every cent they can get, the commercial exploitation of this situation leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

I appreciate your conservationist stance; but in my opinion (and if being here for 40+ years counts for anything) the crayfish are still perfectly abundant. FYI, according to the article, their preferred habitation depth is 8 - 26 meters. The shallow reefs and gulleys that they are exploited from are only the tip of the iceberg. And they renew themselves within days. Seriously. Do you remember the red tide that washed millions of them onto the west coast about 10 years ago? They were buried post-haste in landfills so that they could not impact on the lucrative, and tightly controlled, market. We need to worry more about coastal trawlers depleting our fish stocks, than the occasional hotel that still actually serves fresh cray in their restaurants. Granted, there has not been enough research into the whole issue: and this (dated) Natal article was the only thing I could find on the subject; but we need to be aware that a) stock levels have not changed in over 40 years, and b) crayfish were always a huge drawcard for tourists to the Wild Coast; up until the government declared all marine products a national resource and prohibited their (informal) resale. Apart from commercial exploiters on an un-sustainable industrial scale.) Cray are, or could be, an invaluable tourism drawcard: but our hotels can't get permits to resell them legally because of massive bureaucratic incompetence, and closed, protected, markets. Believe me: there is no shortage of the tasty little beasties. Fish, mussels and oysters, on the other hand...

While I agree that there is still an abundance of Crays on the wild coast, I cannot agree that " these replace themselves within days". These juvenile Crays have not yet reached maturity and we are therefore depleting the breeding stock by removing them before they have had a chance to reproduce. This is not sustainable. The depletion of the mussel and oyster stocks are testimony to this. The locals in this area are in DESPERATE need of income and selling their catch IS a necessity. It is a sad reality that the locals are living below the "breadline" and have no real chance of employment and will therefore try to sell anything they can get their hands on. I think that one of the ways we can all help is to refuse to buy undersized Crays, even for "bait". In this way we know that the Crays are reproducing as nature intended. I enjoy Crays as much as the next man and appreciate that the availability of Crays IS huge draw card for this area, but if we do not try to limit/stop the sale of undersized Crays, I firmly believe that this resource will go the same way as the oysters, limpets and mussels. You are very lucky to have lived in this area for so long and I too hope the abundance of Crays lasts forever.

I live on the North Coast,80km North of Durban. I have been diving for crayfish since '92, and have not seen their stocks depleted. Whilst certain areas are more exploited than others due to population, these hardy bugs seem to be doing fine in my opinion. The sea only lets you get at them once in a while, and it's hard work diving them out. The fact that they are not commercially harvested, deems good for their survival. We should be more concerned with the levels of heavy metals in our seas, after all, it is us that feeds off that.......

At 68 yrs old, and also spent most of my life on the wild coast,wot i have noticed is not the depletion of the crays, but the fact that they definitly are getting smaller. When the local women bring them 2 me to buy, i really have 2 battle 2 get one over 65mm (legal size)which tells me they will deplete the crays eventually. N ow the reason i say this is because there is a company which comes every day 2 buy the crays frm the locals, they supposedly only take the legal ones, maybe thats why we get the babies. Wot i dont understand is how could our govt. even allow them 2 get a licence, these guys have it tied up frm the kei to port edward! the complete wild coast,every day in season, and they export them.......somebody's making a hell of a lot of money! Then we have a couple of locals who have diving suits. flippers, snorkel and speargun, they go deeper and get the big fellas, they fill a cardboard box, then go to Mthatha and sell the to...???? for even bigger bucks, .......but thats not all, out of season this still continues...the crays that are in berry, well they remove the eggs, dry them then sell to the SANGOMA'S at 50 times the price of the cray.....now wot u guys think of that!!

Hi, for a start, you should not be buying them, for that is against the law! I however cannot comment on the conditions in the Kei, because I live on the N coast. Nobody has a licence to sell or buy these creatures, and therefore anyone doing so, is breaking the law. As for the Sangoma's, well these ou's will trade in anything from rotten whale blubber to dead seagulls, so again, am not qualified to comment. In my area we have to dive in hard seas, often unfavourable, to get the bugs. They are still thick in my opinion, and we don't buy or sell, EVER!! Bruce Lawson DIRECTOR

Hi Bruce, wot im trying to tell people is that here on the transkei wild coast, the locals used to, and still do sell to the mlungu's when they are here for the weekend or woteva, they survive that way, but this company (i stand corrected)frm cape town, obtained licences for about 30 locals to fish and dive for them, now nobody controls the amount they catch and sell to the buyer(company), the left overs (under size)one's they try to sell to us. We have since the day "0" bought frm them, so they have cash to go and buy food frm our local shop......nothing wrong with that! The buyer must of course have a permit to carry or keep in his deep freeze the correct quota per person, per permit! With regard to the crays in berry, the point im trying to make is, ...it is highly illegal to catch crays out of season, and to remove the eggs and sell them, i feel is even worse, so yes, i stand by wot i said, the locals are depleting them, if only frm as they say...."the tip of the ice berg." Grenville Clarke Pensioner

Hi all, i am involved in a small restaurant in Coffee Bay and would like to stock my quiet sizeable fish tank with crayfish. Creating a cool vibe and offering guests fresh on size crayfish on demand. I am looking for the legal ethical way of doing this if anyone can give me come information? Thanks j

J, contact the GREEN SCORPIONS at 0800 205 005. They will tell u nay or yay..........but personally, i think u been watching too many movies!!!!

J, go 2 the top of this page, there u will read that the east coast rock lobster is not allowed 2 be sold in restaurants, hotels etc. Check it out!!!

Hey Grenville, how you doing bud? Long time no chat. Ja listen J, you not allowed to sell them man, so keeping them on display for sale is only gonna get you in trouble dude. A nice conversation piece it would be though! Why not try an octopus? Ha! Ha! Hey guys, 2 weeks to go and time to don the old wetsuits and grab some bugs again. Why don't we keep in touch and inform each other of how our relevant stocks are doing, etc. Bet this year will be better than last, 'cause we had a bad winter and couldn't dive too much. Be safe and have fun............. Bruce

Hi, just to comment on all these opinions,have any of you who have seen buyers with illegal catches ever reported them and followed up on any action taken? probably not! Its up to all of us to report these criminals as south africans.

Yes i have reported, still waiting 4 some sort of action to be implemented, and recently sent an email 2 Green Scorpions, will see wot happenes.

Well done,it is good to know that there are people like yourself who do take action,thankyou

Good day guys Tell me, as a recreational angler am i allowed to dive or fish or whatever for like 1 or 2 crays. Live up in jhb and would like to have some fresh ones when im down there again. not sure yet as to how i might get my hands on these bad boys, i see there are permits in place, however it does not say anything about diving? Like i said, what do you recommend? Regards J

Yes u must have a license, u are allowed 4/person/license/day, but u gota eat them that day.....not allowed to store them, at any point if u are checked...no more than 4! check at the post office, u shud b able 2 get the license there.

Hi J, you can get a permit from your local post office for about R80.00. This will let you catch 8 per day in season, with the carapace measuring 65mm and over. None with eggs are allowed. You can also catch them at night with an approved trap or jig available from your local fishing shop. When diving, you may not use scuba gear or dive from a boat. Hope this helps. Try go with someone who is familiar with the area, local knowledge is valuable. You can scratch them out the shallows or go deeper if you are fit enough. Stay safe and enjoy................ B.

hey guys,we got a problem with lighties at garvies that just take all bugs they get,what can we do?

the crayfish on the wild coast are being monitored very closely for africas standards .there are monitors in place to try and protect illegal fishing .the problem is that tourists buy crayfish from the locals when they are not meant to.This stimulates illegal fishing .Just to add that the firm buying crayish is legal and closely monitored by national parks and green scorpions and the catch is accounted for .The fisherman are all licenced and the catch is measured . 1]you as a tourist are not allowed to buy crayfish 2]every person in the transkei who wants tto catch crayfish as a subsistance fisherman has to have a licence 3] the licence is given to them for free on the understanding that they weigh their catch with the coastal monitors who patrol the beaches ,who in turn keep these records and are picked up by national parks every month.the system is well thought out but who knows how effectively it is carried out

All i can ad to this is that the people employed to do the monitoring normally find a nice warm place to sleep all day, then go home and fill in false reports, in summer they sleep all day in the shade under the trees!.........no monitoring of crayfish is ever done, so it is being ripped off......cancel the licence of the company who is making millions off our wildcoast

I am a frequent bug diver on the bluff beaches and was recently stopped by the parksboard and questioned wether i had any soft shelled crayfish in my haul, fortunateley i didnt and i only ever catch that which my permit allows me to and no soft shelled bugs, however and maybe i am being realy daft here but no where in any rules can i find a clause saying that you may not catch soft shelled crays. Is there a law stating this or is it an urban myth

John, i am in the dark about this, as i also have not seen the written law, however my guess is there must be something written somewhere, i suggest we direct this question to the webmaster.......Jeff Brown, c'mon Jeff help us out here.

It's always been the case in the 'Kei. From what I understand, the regulation didn't apply to (either the Cape or KZN, not sure which, as the article at http://spearfishingsa.co.za/regulations.htm is confusing. Should have been illegal in KZN and legal in the Cape, I would have thought), but came into effect nationally with the new MLRA of 1998. http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/MLRA-Regulations-R1111-updated.rtf (pg 24)

Thanks for the quick responses Chaps, checking out your link Jeff it certainly does indicate that soft shelled crays are illegal to catch,

What is the best time to fish Mazzeppa Bay

Night time. ;) Seriously, though I'm sure that's not what you meant. Depends what you're after. Generally, the best fishing on the Wild Coast is between June - September. July being shad season. I think the garrick run around PSJ is usually around September/October.

Yes - at thepost office the license costs R95 and then you can dive for crays for the year. And as for storing them I have done it before and whenthey pulled me over they said nothing - I will have to go read up on that

As a avid snorkel diver i grew up diving crayfish and perlemoen in Pringle bay/Hangklip.(now perlemeon is illegal) Since moving to East London i have yet to find a spot where one can dive crayfish apart from the Transkei. Are there spots in the East London area where one can DIVE crayfish?--I know this is a tricky question as people DONT want to give there spots away!--But u never know... dying for a good crayfish dive


I used to buy from the piks on the side of the road in Tkei but a japie told me they kept them in the longdrops for weeks to grow and fatten them up before selling them to us troepies. This is back in the old days... any truth to this?

I got a flyer in my postbox for crayfish Crayfish tails for sale Contact zunaid 071 431 4196 We deliver

Hi, jusr be very carefull,this is more likely to be illegal.

Guys from a girls point catch ur lobsters urself. Dnt encourage unlicensed anglers to do the same I have seen that happen too many tyms.there are no friends in fishing favours. There should be no cover ups and lending of permits my husband and I dnt share or favour if I or he have caught our limit its rods down til the other catches his 8

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