Lobster comes in with anchor
The following is the best account of the lobster story that I have been able to distill given the short amount of time that has passed since it happened. In considering the expanding nature of fishing events and stories, the one you’ve already heard is likely more sensational, involves larger seas or bigger fish or both, but as is often said, the truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
At approximately 4 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20, the crew of the Gulf Eagle, a party boat out of Deep Sea Headquarters in Port Aransas, elects to weigh anchor and take it to the house after a full night of fishing the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Eagle deckhands Lloyd Rodriguez and Jeffery Wilson wind and mind the anchor line on the deck, while Capts. Keith Schoolcraft and Clint Clark drive and operate the wench from the wheelhouse. Peering over the side, Lloyd signals to Keith to slow the wench as the rope turns to chain, and it is during this process that he notices something has been caught between the fluke and the shaft of the anchor. He quickly grabs a nearby gaff and is able to finagle onboard the somewhat crushed remains of what appears to be a very large spiny lobster. We’ll call it Tex.
Tex’s tail was nearly completely crushed. However, had his tail not been crushed, he would likely have been the star guest at a neighborhood barbecue, and not necessarily a scientific specimen. There are three prevailing theories on Tex’s demise: 1) the anchor either fell right on top of him, 2) drug over the top of him, or 3) Tex mistook the set anchor for a homey crevice and nestled in between the fluke and shaft for a nice little nap before a rather sudden and rude awakening, followed by a free ride to Port Aransas.
Considering the number of fish caught on that trip, combined with the fact that they were anchored for some time, I am inclined to believe that a partially crushed lobster would not have lasted long on that particular piece of bottom, and deduce that the last scenario is the most likely. In any case, the specimen was immediately preserved in the name of oddity and donated to science.
As Schoolcraft would later jokingly recount to me as he rinsed the bridge of his boat, “It’s the coolest thing we have caught off the bottom with the anchor since we caught the Turtle Excluder Device.”
Turtle Excluder Devices have been a component of bottom trawling gear since around the 1970s.
Spiny lobsters in Texas are not completely unheard of in some diving circles, particularly in the Flower Gardens area. The Southeast Data, Assessment and Review Report for U.S. Spiny Lobster says that Tex and his buddies occur throughout the Caribbean Sea, along the shelf waters of the southeastern United States north to North Carolina, in Bermuda, and south to Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico. The origins of the Florida stock remain unknown, as information on larval recruitment remains scarce.
No one I have spoken with has ever seen or heard of one this size in Texas, let alone caught in such a strange way. The spiny lobster does have an adopted Federal Fisheries Management Plan that includes all the spiny lobsters from the Carolinas to Texas. It also includes a recreational daily bag of six and a 3” (76.2mm) carapace length minimum. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Web site, carapace length is a measurement beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns and proceeding along the middle to the rear edge of the carapace. Just to give you an idea of past U.S. catch data, 96 percent of all the spiny lobster landings in 1984 were from Monroe County in the Florida Keys.
In order to continue his education, I obligingly gave Tex another free ride over to Dr. Greg Stunz’s Fisheries and Ocean Health lab and Dr. Tom Shirley’s Biodiversity and Conservation lab at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. There, Tex’s identity was confirmed as a male spiny lobster, Panulirus argus with a carapace length of 166.4 mm.
One way to estimate the age of spiny lobsters is by measuring a particular amount of pigment in the eyestalk of Caribbean spiny lobsters from Florida, the Dry Tortugas, and laboratory-raised (*Matthews et al. 2009). From these techniques, scientists have been able to estimate age of spiny lobsters, like Tex, according to carapace length. According to this data, Tex is a very large lobster, about 3.5 years old.
Tissue samples were also taken from Tex in the hopes of eventually determining his relationship with existing stocks, so stay tuned for more exciting results.
*Matthews, T. R., K. E. Maxwell, R. D. Bertelsen, and C. D. Derby. 2009. Use of neurolipofuscin to determine age structure and growth rates of Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus in Florida, United States. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 43(1):125-137.
Peter Young is a graduate research assistant at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. He also is a licensed boat captain.