Lobster floats allow anglers to find lobster traps in the ocean.
A lobster float is a type of float that attaches to lobster traps so that lobsters can quickly locate and identify the traps, which are installed on the ocean floor. While some recreational lobster catchers may only set a single trap, which can be easily monitored, most members of the lobster collecting industry set hundreds of traps at once. The buoys attached to these traps float on the surface of the ocean, making it easy to locate and recapture.
People working in the lobster harvesting industry set hundreds of traps at once.
Even if a lobster man would pay close attention to where he dropped a lobster trap in the sea, ocean currents and the movements of the trapped lobster tend to move the traps a bit. A lobster float allows lobsters to not only retrieve their traps by pulling on the attached rope, but also identify errant traps as their own. Lobster-rich waters tend to be coveted by many different lobster fishermen at the same time. The different markings and colors on a lobster float can help lobsters distinguish the traps they have set from those of other hunters.
Spiny lobsters are most often found in Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean.
The first lobster floats were made of wood. Most were shaped like spheres or rounded rectangles, often with striped stakes or posts attached. The buoys are usually brightly painted to be easily identified from some distance. Wood is still sometimes used to make lobster floats, but most modern floats are made from durable plastic.
Jurisdictions where lobster hunting is a major industry generally establish and enforce lobster laws, including rules on the use of lobster buoys. The waters around Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean produce most of the world’s spiny lobster. Maine and the New England coast of the US provide the most claw lobsters.
Lobster float laws often pertain to everything from trap registration to restrictions on paint colors. Buoy users should generally register the color and pattern of their buoys at some centralized lobster agency or office. Two lobster hunters cannot use the same lobster float pattern. Hunters are also generally restricted to a certain number of buoys that can be in the water at a time.
The laws also establish punishments for those who tamper with or steal lobster floats. Rival lobsters often steal traps belonging to other hunters. In New England, theft of lobster floats is also increasingly popular with tourists and recreational fishermen.
Lobster floats have become something of a quintessential symbol of the New England coast, and as such are coveted by collectors and decorators. Old and aged lobster floats, many of which are still used by experienced lobsterers, are particularly at risk of vandalism. A number of boutiques, both in New England and online, have tried to meet the demand for lobster floats by selling floats that have been retired or manufactured to look aged and antique.