Lobster Diving At Night Can Be Deadly – Five Deaths Since Beginning of Lobster Season in Southern Calif

by on October 8, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, Environment, Health, Ocean Beach

Spiny Lobster. Photo taken in Crete Aquarium, Creta, GreeceFatalities Include One in Mission Bay

MISSION BAY Jeffrey Logandro, 38, of Carlsbad died in the San Diego Mission Bay Channel after he began to struggle near the surface of the water Oct. 1. His diving partner attempted to keep him afloat until paramedics came, but he was underwater for about six minutes without air. He was pronounced dead at roughly 8 p.m.


By Megan Nicolai / OC Register / Oct. 8, 2014

There was a scramble on the deck of the Magician, a scuba dive boat, as 20 men and women threw on scuba gear in a race to be the first to descend on the unsuspecting lobsters feeding below.

The South Orange County Dive Club, founded in 1989, chartered the Magician out of San Pedro for three dives Friday night and early Saturday morning. The dives, off the coast of Catalina Island, are a new tradition for the group to celebrate the birthday of club president, Konrad Fry, who sometimes is known as “El Presidente.”

Diving at night is routine during lobster season, but the dives last week from the Magician were different for one key reason: They came after one of the deadliest weeks in local diving in recent memory.

The lobster season opened Sept. 27, and over the next six days at least five divers died in the ocean off Southern California. Four of the five died while hunting lobster, and the deaths served as a stark reminder of the dangers associated with a sport sometimes known as “bug hunting.”

Debbie Karimoto, who recently finished her 900th dive, said lobster season inspires many divers. Normally, she said, the boat would be filled with camera equipment, as divers prepped for a little underwater photography. But on Friday, aboard the Magician, people were psyching themselves up like runners before a race – listening to music, teasing each other; getting into whatever qualifies as “the zone” for divers. A competitive tension thrummed.

“There’s just a different attitude compared to the rest of the year,” said Karimoto of Mission Viejo.

“During a normal dive I have a kind of Zen experience. But at the beginning of lobster season, I just feel kind of edgy.

“It’s the excitement before the hunt.”

For inexperienced divers, that excitement can be deadly.

Lobster hunting typically takes place at night, when the creatures are active and feeding, and night diving poses slight but added risks for the hunters.

Four of the five divers who died this season died while hunting lobster at night. Two were found near Catalina, one was near Anacapa Island in Ventura County and one was in San Diego’s Mission Bay. Another died in Long Beach’s Alamitos Bay, but he had not yet dived, according to the Long Beach Fire Department.

Tom Carr, a longtime diver and volunteer who helps train physicians in how to treat diving-related maladies, said the deaths are the most he’s seen during the first week of the lobster season. In a typical season, which lasts about 61/2 months, there might be two or three diving deaths in Southern California.

Still, Carr doesn’t think the incidents will deter experienced divers from a nocturnal dive to snag a few lobsters.

“When you’re comfortable in the water, it’s not a big deal.”

Jerry Lewis, captain of the Magician and a diver for 42 years, said less-experienced divers sometimes throw safety measures out the window in the search for lobster.

Some, he said, haven’t been in the water for a few years and lose their orientation during a nighttime dive. Some forget to check equipment like pressure gauges, or, in the dark, they lose track of their equipment. On top of that, lobsters are quick and can require a lot of speed and effort to catch, pushing the limits of divers who aren’t in great shape.

“There’s a frenzy at the beginning of lobster season,” Lewis said. “You hear about deaths every year.”

Lewis said he does all he can to keep divers safe, employing two dive masters to keep an eye on the water for signs of trouble. Before each of the three stops Friday night he also briefed divers about the layout of the ocean floor below.

Still, Lewis said it’s hard to tell whether divers are listening to his instructions. And while they may be certified scuba divers, it’s difficult to know how much experience they have.

“They’re on their own in the water,” Lewis said.


Though warm water has made this an unusually good year for fishing, particularly for species that are rare visitors to Southern California, it’s not yet clear if this will be a good or bad year for lobster hunting.

For the divers on the Magician, the hunt went like any fishing trip. Lots of baby lobster were spotted, but many bigger ones got away. By 2 a.m., Saturday, the divers had hauled up only a dozen legal-size lobsters.

Jason Dabareiner, the only diver to pull in his daily limit of seven lobsters, said he hunts for the crustaceans every year.

“I just know where to find them,” he said.

“That’s everything,” Fry said nodding.

Per tradition, Fry and the other divers started a small wine-tasting group after the final dive. Despite a smaller-than-expected haul, Fry said the fun of diving at night was worth the danger.

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