Panulirus argus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Panulirus argus
Species Authority: (Latreille, 1804)
Common Name(s):
English Caribbean Spiny Lobster
French Langouste Blanche
Spanish Langosta Común del Caribe.
Palinurus americanus H. Milne Edwards, 1837
Palinurus argus Latrielle, 1804
Palinurus ricordi Guérin-Méneville, 1836
Taxonomic Notes: There are two recognized subspecies for the species. Panulirus argus argus is found north of the equator and Panulirus argus westonii is found south of the equator in Brazil, however this is an invalid name (Sarver, Silberman and Walsh, 1998).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2009-12-03
Assessor(s): Butler, M., Cockcroft, A., MacDiarmid, A. & Wahle, R.
Reviewer(s): Collen, B., Livingstone, S. & Richman, N.
Contributor(s): Batchelor, A., De Silva, R., Dyer, E., Kasthala, G., Lutz, M.L., McGuinness, S., Milligan, H.T., Soulsby, A.-M. & Whitton, F.
Panulirus argus has been assessed as Data Deficient. Although this species is believed to be exploited throughout its range, there are gaps in the data relating to fishing effort, or other appropriate indexes of abundance. For the major producers of this species, both Cuban and Florida fisheries are thought to be relatively stable, however Nicaraguan, the Bahamas and Brazilian fisheries are uncertain. Further research is required to determine an appropriate index of abundance for the global population of this species, and to what extent it is impacted by harvesting and other threats within its range, before an accurate assessment can be made. With further information on catch per unit effort, it is likely that this species will be uplisted to a threat category.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species has a broad geographic range from Bermuda and east coast USA, south to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico (Holthuis 1991). It is also known from Cape Verde (Freitas and Castro 2005)
Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; French Guiana; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guatemala; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Martinique; Mexico; Montserrat; Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire); Nicaragua; Panama; Puerto Rico; Saint Barthélemy; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States (Florida, Louisiana, Texas); Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: This species is widely distributed within the western central Atlantic and supports important fisheries in many of the countries within this area.  However, recent assessments have indicated this species is being fully or over-exploited over much of its range (Cochrane and Chakalall 2001).

Four stocks have been identified by the FAO (2001) according to the nature of the coastal shelf and prevailing currents which thereby affect recruitment. These stocks detail the major lobster producing countries, although there are many other countries that also utilize this resource:

Southern Stock: Brazil, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Lesser Antilles.

South Central Stock: Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Jamaica.

North Central Stock: Mexico, Belize and southern Cuba.

Northern Stock: North Cuba, USA (Florida), Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Bermuda.

Landings of this species over the last 50-60 years, have fluctuated significantly, peaking at 37,500 tonnes in 1995/1996. Both the Northern and Southern stocks have shown an increase in landings, while the South Central stock appears to have stabilized, and the North central stock has shown a decline (FAO 2006). The biggest producing countries include Cuba, the Bahamas, Brazil, Nicaragua and the USA, which in 1998 accounted for over 88% of the global landings. This species is harvested using a number of gear types including traps, gill nets, by hand (divers), and aggregating devices known as 'pesqueros' or 'casitas' (FAO 2006).

Bahamas: Stock biomass abundance (as estimated from length cohort analysis) is reported to be showing a declining trend of 33% between 1992 and 2001 when it peaked at 24 million pounds and declined to 16 million pounds. There has also been a decline in the average size of lobsters since 1991/1992 when average tail weight peaked at 7.95 oz and declined to ~7.45 in 2001/2002 (Gittens and Braynen 2002).

Bermuda: Between the 1950s and early 1970s catches of this species fluctuated between 150 and 200 tonnes with a peak in 1968 at 250 tonnes. As of the 1970s there was a decline in catch to between 10 and 40 tonnes per annum. This decline in landings is likely a result of a conservation program started in 1975 which prohibited the removal of individuals less than 92 mm (CL); a closed fishing season between 1st April and 31st August over the breeding season; prohibition of the removal of berried females; protection of juveniles in nursery areas around the North Shore and inshore waters of the sounds and harbours (Evans and Evans 1995). Catch per unit effort (CPUE) is seen as an appropriate index of abundance when studying the Bermuda population, as annual sea temperatures fluctuate very little in this region and thereby have little effect on the catchability coefficient. During the period 1975-1986 there was an overall increase in CPUE from just 0.4 lobsters trap/ haul to above 0.6 lobsters trap/ haul (Evans and Evans 1995). During the period 1996-2001 CPUE was reported as relatively stable for the offshore fishery while the inshore fishery has shown a declining trend. In 2001/2002 fishing effort was reduced; total landings were still down in this season but CPUE was significantly higher (2.29 in 2001/2002 compared to 1.70 in 2000/2001) (Trott, Luckhurst and Medley 2002).

Belize: There has been a significant decline in the CPUE in the spiny lobster fishery in this region from ~1.2 kg/trap in 1965 to 0.6 kg/trap in 1997. There are also reports that 10% of the landings consist of undersized individuals (Carcamo 2003).

Brazil: Since 1959, there has been a significant increase in the landings of this species from 1,000 tonnes to over 10,000 tonnes in the early 1990's. There has since been a subsequent decline to annual landings ranging from 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes (FISHSTAT Plus 2000). During the period 1974 to 1993 CPUE declined from ~0.30 to ~0.15 (FAO 2001), a decline of ~50%. Abundance estimates (estimated by tuned length cohort analysis) show a significant decline since 1993 from ~25 to 30 million down to around 15 million in 1997. During this period there was a number of new fishing vessels entering the fleet, as well as an increase in the use of gillnets, traps, scuba divers and free divers. However the stock abundance of this fishery is largely driven by variable levels of recruitment which are brought about by environmental changes such as ENSO events. This in combination with a growing intensity in the fishing fleet could result in ongoing declines in abundance (FAO 2001).

Cuba: There are four lobster management zones in Cuba: North Western which accounts for approximately 2% of the landings; North Eastern which accounts for approximately 15% of the landings; Gulf of Batabano which accounts for approximately 60% of the landings; South Eastern which accounts for approximately 23% of the landings (Cruz and Adriano 2001). In 1953, landings of this species increased from approximately 1,000 tonnes per year to a peak of 13,578 tonnes in 1985. There has since been a subsequent decline to 4,401 tonnes in 2006. This species is of huge economic importance to Cuba and represents approximately 60% of the country's gross income from fisheries (Baisre and Cruz 1994). The particularly high landings from 1978 to 1988 was largely due to an increase in fishing effort. Cruz and Phillips (1994) found the number of pesqueros deployed on the fishery rose from 440,000 in 1975 to 856,000 in 1983 and 1,230,600 in 1987, as well as strict compliance with minimum legal size limits, and the closed fishing season (Puga et al. 1992). The decline in catch as of 1988 may be in part due to hurricane Gilbert which is thought to have affected lobster nursery grounds (Cruz Font 2002). Ninety percent of the lobster catch is comprised of lobsters aged 2 to 6 with 55% aged 3 to 4 (Cruz Font 2002). In the report by Cruz Font (2002) their calculations indicate that an increase in current fishing effort could result in higher catch as actual fishing mortality is lower than maximum yield, however this does not take account of the resulting effect on spawning stock biomass. The authors recommend that instead of defining a biological reference point (BRP) based on yield per recruit such as Fmax and F0.1 , they recommend adopting a view which focuses on spawning stock or egg production in order to preserve reproductive potential (calculated as reference fishing mortality Fx% representing a spawning stock biomass per recruit that is x% of that with no fishing). A BRP of 35-50%, based on spawning biomass, is recommended.

Jamaica: There has been an ongoing increase in the landings of this species since the early 1980's. Landings then peaked at ~700 tonnes in 2005. During this time intensity of the fishing fleet has increased significantly, however CPUE data is not available due to lack of cooperation from fishers (Kelly 2002).

Nicaragua:  Over the history of this fishery, effort has increased linearly. Rates of fishing mortality (F) have reached levels of 0.53 per year while natural mortality is calculated at 0.35 per year. Regulations include annual fishing quotas which are defined by changes in annual recruitment; prohibition of fishing during periods of maximum recruitment and egg-laying (May-June); prohibition on removal of berried females. However at present there is no effective means to monitor or control these regulations. There has also been a decline in the mean length of individuals being harvested from 163 mm in 1990/1991 to 159 mm in 2002/2003 indicating growth-overfishing. Biomass estimates were obtained by means of length cohort analysis and indicate considerable fluctuations over the period 1990 - 2002. In the season 1998/1999 abundance fell to below 3,636 tonnes, while in season 1999/2000 it exceeded 5,454 tonnes but subsequently declined to below 3,636 tonnes in 2001/2002. The decline in 1998/1999 could be related to the effect of hurricane Mitch on nursery grounds and thereby affecting recruitment (Navarro 2002).

Puerto Rico: Over the period 1988-2001, landings of this species rose from ~150,000 pounds to 250,000-300,000 pounds per year (Matos-Caraballo et al. 2007). During this time CPUE for each gear type has also shown an increase. Average size of individuals has increased from the period 1988-1994 to 1995-2001 perhaps as a result of good enforcement of the minimum size limit (Matos-Caraballo et al. 2007).

Florida, United States of America-Since the 1970s the landings of this species have been fairly stable with some fluctuation occurring. Prior to this CPUE peaked at over 100 lbs/trap and then declined to ~10 lbs/trip in 1975. Since the fishing season of 1990/1991 the catch rate per trip has been steadily increasing from ~0.75 pounds/trip to ~1.12 pounds/trip in 1999/2000. Spawning stock biomass of females has also increased during the period 1993/1994 - 1999/2000 from ~2.5 million pounds to ~3 million pounds, while male biomass has shown some variability between ~1.8 and ~2.3 million pounds (Muller et al. 2000). Recruitment levels appear to be higher following the Trap Reduction Program which was implemented in 1992/1993, with numbers of age 2 lobsters rising from an average of 9.1 million lobsters, to 12.6 million lobsters (Muller et al. 2000). In 2000, Matthews considered the fishery to be in a stable state.

Venezuela: During the period 1950-1977, the landings of this species fluctuated between 100-200 tonnes per annum. Between 1977 and 1993 the landings then showed more dramatic fluctuations between 250 and 1200 tonnes per annum. This was followed by a subsequent decline to approximately 100 tonnes from 1998-2001 but has since shown an increase to approximately 1,100 tonnes. There is no formal data on fishing effort in Venezuela although sporadic reports have been made by Parque Nacional Archipiélago los Roques (PNALR). From 1994 to 1997, free divers CPUE is said to have decreased significantly (5,157 kg per diver per season to 2,966 kg per diver per season), while trap catches are thought to have increased during this same period from 80.2 kg per trap per season, to 93.2 kg per trap per season in 1996, and 90.8 kg per trap per season in 1997 (FAO 2001). At present ~95% of the landings of this species are derived from Los Roques Archipelago National Park (Yallonardo et al. 2001). Size frequency of lobsters taken during the period 1986-1988 and 1998-1999 did not differ significantly indicating that growth overfishing does not appear to be a problem. Mean CPUE by trapping increased from 2.29 kg/trap/month in 1986-1988, to 2.31 kg/trap/month in 1998-1999, and CPUE by diving increased from 133 kg/diver/month in 1986-1988, to 155.65 kg/diver/month in 1998-1999 (Yallonardo et al. 2001). While a decline in the landings was noted in the trap fishery (158,363 kg to 93,555 kg) this is likely related to a decline in the number of traps being used over this time period (275 traps to 225 traps) (Yallonardo et al. 2001). While the conclusion of this study implicates stability in the fishery, the authors note that only a single data point was used for the period 1986-1988.

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species is found up to a depth of 90 m within a range of habitat types, including rocky reefs, coral reefs and seagrass beds, which are utilized for shelter (Holthuis 1991).

In Florida, they typically moult 2 - 3 times a year from March to July, and December to February (Williams 1984). The timing of moulting is affected by water temperature/ geographic region (M.J. Butler, A.C. Cockcroft, A.B. MacDiarmid and  R.A.Wahle pers. comm. 2008).

Egg production in females has been shown to be greatly reduced in fished populations, compared to unexploited populations, with females in the exploited population producing only 12% of eggs (Lyons et al. 1981). Age at maturity is estimated at 2 years, and longevity at 12 years (Chávez 2001) although individuals of 20 years have been noted (Ehrhardt 2005). Furthermore, size at maturity differs with locality. Estimates for size at 50% maturity range from 81 mm (CL) in Cuba, to 92 mm (CL) in Colombia (FAO 2001).
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is captured for food, both commercially and recreationally. In Florida 20% of the harvest is recreational.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): A major threat to this species is disease (PAV1) which effects one in four recruits in the Caribbean (M. Butler pers. comm. 2009), which could be contributing to the declines in the population. Furthermore, climate change related impacts could possibly be contributing to the resilience of this species to the disease. This species is a also commercially and recreationally caught species and over-exploitation has caused declines.





Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

There are regulations in place governing the harvesting of this species within part of its range. There is a legal minimum size of 69 mm (carapace length) and a closed season of 120 days from February to May, in order to safeguard reproducing females during the spawning period, to protect new recruits, and to allow the growth and increase in weight of the population (Phillips and Melville-Smith 2006). Furthermore, strict control is also exercised over the prohibition of the taking of berried females, as well as the number of fishing gears and boats utilized, and boat replacement (Baisre and Cruz 1994).

Further research is needed to determine an appropriate index of abundance for the global population of this species, and to what extent it is impacted upon by threats within its range.

Bibliography [top]

Baisre, J.A. and Cruz, R. 1994. Cuban spiny lobster fishery. In: B.F. Phillips, J.S. Cobb and J. Kittaka (eds), Spiny lobster management, pp. 119-132. Fishing News Books, Oxford.

Carcamo, R. A. 2003. Report of the Second Workshop on the Management of Caribbean Spiny Lobster Fisheries. FAO Fisheries Report/FAO Informe de Pesca. FAO, Rome.

Chávez, E.A. 2001. Policy Design for Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) Management at the Meso-American Barrier Reef System. Crustaceana 74: 1119-1137.

Cochrane, K.L. and Chakalal, B. 2001. The spiny lobster fishery in the WECAFC region—an approach to responsible fisheries management. Marine Freshwater Research 52: 1623–31.

Cruz Font, L. 2002. Stock assessment of the Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) in southeastern Cuban waters. Fisheries Research Centre, The United Nations University.

Cruz, R. and Adriano, R. 2001. Regional and seasonal prediction of the Caribbean lobster (Panulirus argus) commercial catch in Cuba. Marine and Freshwater Research 52: 1633–1640.

Cruz, R. and Phillips, B.F. 2002. The artificial shelters (pesqueros) used for the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) fisheries in Cuba. In: B. F. Phillips and J. Kittaka (eds), Spiny Lobster Management: Fisheries and Culture., pp. 400-419. Fishing News Books, Oxford.

Ehrhardt, N. M. 2005. Population Dynamic Characteristics and Sustainability Mechanisms in Key Western Central Atlantic Spiny Lobster, Panulirus Argus, Fisheries. Bulletin of Marine Science 76(26): 501-526.

Evans, C.R. and Evans, A.J. 1995. Fisheries ecology of spiny lobsters Panulirus argus (Latreille) and Panulirus guttatus (Latreille) on the Bermuda Platform: estimates of sustainable yields and observations on trends in abundance. Fish Research 24: 113-128.

FAO/Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission. 2001. Report on the FAO/DANIDA/CFRAMP/WECAFC Regional Workshops on the Assessment of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus). FAO, Belize City, Belize.

FAO/Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission. 2006. Report of the fifth Regional Workshop on the Assessment and Management of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, 19–29 September 2006. FAO Fisheries Report. FAO.

FISHSTAT Plus. 2000. Universal software for fishery statistical time series Version 2.3.

Freitas, R. and Castro, M. 2005. Occurrence of Panulirus argus (Latreille, 1804) (Decapoda, palinuridae) in the northwest islands of the Cape Verde archipelago (central-east Atlantic). Crustaceana 78(10): 1191-1201.

Holthuis, L.B. 1991. Marine lobsters of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species of interest to fisheries known to date. FAO species catalogue 13(125). FAO, Rome.

IUCN. 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2011.1). Available at: (Accessed: 16 June 2011).

Lyons, W.G. 1981. Possible sources of Florida's spiny lobster population. Proc. Gulf Caribb. Fish. Inst. 33: 253-266.

Matos-Caraballo, D. 2007. Overview of Puerto Rico’s Small-scale fisheries statistics 2001–2004. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 58: 95–106.

Muller, R. G., Sharp, W. C., Matthews, T.R., Bertelsen, R. and Hunt, J. H. 2000. The 2000 update of the stock assessment for spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, in the Florida Keys. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Marine Research Institute, Marathon, Florida.

Phillips. B.F. and Melville-Smith, R. 2006. Panulirus species. In: B. Phillips (ed.), Lobsters: Biology, Management, Aquaculture, and Fisheries, pp. 359 – 384. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Puga, R., Cortes, I., de Leon, M.E., Cruz, R. and Otero, R. 1992. Estado actual de la pesqueria de langosta (Panulirus argus) en la region noroccidental de Cuba. Revista Cubana de Investigaciones Pesqueras 17(1): 1-8.

Robertson, D.N. and Butler IV, M.J. 2003. Growth and Size at Maturity in the Spotted Spiny Lobster, Panulirus guttatus. Journal of Crustacean Biology 23(2): 265-272.

Trott, T., Luckhurst, B.E. and Medley, P. 2002. Report of the second workshop on management of the Caribbean spiny lobster fisheries in the WECAFC: spiny lobster fishery of Bermuda. FAO Fisheries Report. FAO, Havana, Cuba.

Williams, A.B. 1984. Shrimps, Lobsters, and Crabs of the Atlantic Coast of the Eastern United States. Maine to Florida. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. USA.

Yallonardo, M., Posada, J. M. and Schweizer, D. M. 2001. Current status of the spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, fishery in the Los Roques Archipelago National Park, Venezuela. Marine and Freshwater Research 1615–1622(52).

Citation: Butler, M., Cockcroft, A., MacDiarmid, A. & Wahle, R. 2013. Panulirus argus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 24 July 2014.
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