Lobster Ban or No Lobster Ban? Exemptions and Extensions in Bocas del Toro

Lobster Ban or No Lobster Ban? Exemptions and Extensions for the 2023 Lobster Ban in Bocas del Toro

Since 2015, Central American and Caribbean nations have participated in an international agreement to protect the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) in what is known in Spanish as “la veda de langosta:” the seasonal ban on the capture, consumption and commercialization of the species. The purpose of the ban is to give the threatened species some undisturbed time to reproduce, in an effort to promote the health of the species and longevity to the local lobster trade. Since agreed upon, this measure has taken place annually from March 1 to June 30, unilaterally in all the regions of the other seven participating nations; Panama, along with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

In the year 2023 the ban was altered in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Local lobster fishermen in the area, feeling the economic effects of the yearly four month ban more than ever, petitioned ARAP (Aquatic Resources Authority) in Panama City for a special exemption. The exemption was granted.

From April 10 to May 31, 2023, the lobster ban was no longer in effect, according to Resolution ADM/ARAP No 17, published March 29, 2023 into Panama’s official gazette.

This legislation has essentially nullified the ban for that one month and 21-day time period, legalizing  lobster consumption and commercialization in Bocas del Toro for most of April and the full month of  May. The resolution also adds that same time period of one month and 21 days, extending the June 30th end of ban into the months of July and August, with the ban now ending officially on August 21, 2023.

“This way the community still completes the quota for the international standard of a total of four months of lobster ban,” said Alberto Saad of the ARAP regional office located on Isla Colon when asked about the ban.

The language of the resolution signals that the exemption is meant specifically for the fishermen of the communities of Tierra Oscura and Isla Tigre in the Bocas del Toro district and Kusapin, Bahia Azul and Tobobe of the Ngabe-Bugle comarca. However, Saad of ARAP Isla Colon says that the exemption extends to all Bocas del Toro fishermen in, whether they are from Tierra Oscura, Isla Tigre or another place in the archipelago.

Saad emphasized that the most important thing for fishermen to comply with, year-round, is to not take the young lobsters, which are classified as lobsters measured with a total length shorter than 14 cm. Fishermen should also be able to identify the adult female lobsters during their gestation period; being very careful not to disturb any of the lobsters carrying offspring.

We learned about this special 2023 lobster ban exception by way of the screen shot from restaurant owners on social media and in WhatsApp chats. When researching for this article, we did find it reported in this April 11th article from La Estrella de Panamá national newspaper.

Aside from that, all we were able to find was this May 10 post on the ARAP Instagram account (pictured below), which mentions the original March 1-June 30 dates for the Caribbean spiny lobster. If there was public an announcement about the 2023 exemption and extension in Bocas del Toro, we missed it.

Caribbean Spiny Lobster

Let’s Get Proactive

To aid in this conservation effort, The Bocas Breeze pledges to continue publishing reminders about the important Caribbean spiny lobster ban, as well as the dates and updated information for other rules involving marine life conservation.

ARAP has the enormous task of monitoring and protecting over a dozen species, along with the duty of  announcing and enforcing the conservation measures put in place. We will ensure our participation to create additional awareness every year via our website, social media channels and a flyer campaign.  Our readers can help by spreading the word within your personal networks by sharing these materials.

Vedas Panama ARAP


Bocas Breeze lobster ban announcement

This is our announcement we started circulating on social media during February of 2023 in preparation for the seasonal ban starting March 1.

Whether or not the sudden rescheduling of the second half of the yearly March-June ban will have an effect on conservation efforts remains to be seen. What it has apparently done is further obscured the lines of exactly when and from whom lobster may be sold in Bocas del Toro during 2023.

The legal lobster lines seem to blur the most when you visit  Playa Estrella where, during the ban of 2022 and during March of this year, we have received reports of live lobsters being sold live right out of a trap, on the beach and also offered fresh in most of the stands in this popular calm water beach on the northwestern coast of Isla Colon. This particular case was photographed on March 18, 2023 and is one that went officially unreported.

Playa Estrella Starfish beach lobster in a trap during lobster ban

Not only do the lines of legal lobster get blurred at the outer beaches of the archipelago, but also in Bocas Town supermarkets. When The Bocas Breeze asked a supermarket owner about their lobsters during March 2023, they claimed that they were Pacific lobsters from David. What do you think? This particular business was reported to ARAP in 2022 and it ended up being the one sole “denuncia” brought forth during last year’s lobster ban season. This photo was taken on March 26, 2023.

Lobster Ban Bocas del Toro Panama

Many of our readers complain on social networks about lobsters being sold during the ban, but according to ARAP’s records, very, very few are actually registering formal complaints about it.

How can you report illegal lobster activity to ARAP?

Help ARAP enforce these important conservation measures by making reports when you see marine life being sold during the respective bans. To make a report, you must do so in person at Isla Colon ARAP office, on Main St (Calle 3ra), in front of the red Catholic church (pictured below, here on Google Maps). This is next door to the hotel Swan’s Cay and sushi restaurant Oh Toro. According to ARAP, you will need to provide photo or video evidence as well as the name of the business or person who was participating in the prohibited activities related to the protected Caribbean spiny lobsters or any other of the protected species of which the sale and consumption is restricted.

ARAP office Isla Colon

We have not yet been able to uncover any data in regard to local population levels of the Caribbean spiny lobster in recent years. What we do have is anecdotal accounts from Bocas fishermen that have been diving for 30 or more years, suggesting that the population has been in decline throughout the last few decades.  Without any hard data, it is impossible to tell for certain whether the ban has had an impact since 2015.  It also may be too early to tell as it is.  We will investigate and present any findings in our next article about this topic.

As it now stands for the year 2024, Bocas del Toro is scheduled to return to the original lobster ban, March 1 to June 30, just as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and the Dominican Republic have been participating in since 2015.  However, for this year, the ban will end up being from March 1, 2023 to April 9, 2023 and then June 1 – August 21, 2023.

Lobster Ban Season 2023

Help us spread awareness about this year’s one month and 21 day switch-up in the Bocas del Toro ban on the Caribbean spiny lobster.  Share this article, share our social media posts about it and request a print flyer from us to display in your place of business.

Also, eat more lionfish!

Lobster ban season is a great time for lobster fishermen to join the #eattheenemy campaign. Wasteless World is leading the way to help San Cristobal fishermen commercialize the invasive lionfish species year-round.  Support them on this journey by purchasing lionfish filets or sporting their stunning hand-made lionfish jewelry. Check out the jewelry here on Instagram @byebye.lionfish

Exciting news on the lionfish front: Wasteless World will soon unveil a new product, lionfish burgers. Stay tuned!  You can arrange a lionfish purchase by contacting Emiliano +507 6535-6193 or via Instagram @waste.less.world.

Fishermen from San Cristobal holding lionfish at a tournament

Fishermen of San Cristobal during a lionfish hunting tournament, 2021

And who is serving lionfish prepared? Bocas Sushi! It’s temporized, rolled and sauced up to that Bocas Sushi flavor and style the community has come to love and appreciate. It’s also highly recommended by The Bocas Breeze editorial team. Order yours 4-9:30pm (closed Thursdays) +507 6734-8884.

Pictured below: lionfish tempura, with zucchini and carrot tempurized as well, cream cheese and topped with dehydrated smoked coconut and sweet and sour sauce. 

lionfish sushi bocas sushi

Cosmic Crab is the original OG leader in this fight to protect our local reefs, serving up lionfish specialties in Bocas since 2016!  Check out owner-operator Joan Crabtree’s 2019 article in The Bocas Breeze: “Lionfish: Kill ‘Em and Grill ‘Em.”

Follow Cosmic Crab on social media to learn about their lionfish specials. This was posted just last week on their Facebook (below). Joan really hits the nail on the head with this post when she writes “Help support the eradication of lionfish AND the local fishermen/divers whose family income is impacted by NOT bringing in lobsters.”  Joan 100% understands the assignment!

cosmic crab lionfish movement

When available, The Floating Bar has been known to feature lionfish ceviche on Fridays for “Fishy FriYay.” To encourage this movement, they would even offer a shot of fresh lionfish ceviche with every drink. Now that is a conservation movement that many could get behind!

The Floating Bar fishy friyay lionfish

Are you a restaurant serving lionfish?  Let us know and we will help spread the word. You do not have to be a paid advertiser for us to promote your lionfish offer. We freely dedicate our platform to these important conservation efforts.

Also, do you have a lionfish recipe you want to share?  Send it over and we will publish it. There are a lot of people interested but need some inspiration when preparing it at home.

Conserve lobster, eat more lionfish, respect the bans on local marine life and support our community’s fishermen year-round the  best you can. Bocas del Toro’s flora, fauna and future depend on it.

Lobster restaurant Playa Estrella

The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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