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Rocklobsters – overview

Rock Lobsters, the kind we eat here in Australia, are not lobsters.

Rocklobsters, known as spiny lobsters in most parts of the world, are also sometimes called crayfish, sea crayfish or crawfish. They shouldn’t be confused with freshwater crayfish such as Yabbies and Marrons, nor with the ‘true’ lobsters of the northern hemisphere; the main differences being ‘true’ lobsters’ huge claws or nippers, containing a significant proportion of meat, and much smaller antennae. Higher priced than most crustaceans, Rocklobsters are a popular Australian festive food, especially at Christmas time.

There are about 45 species belonging to the Palinuridae (or spiny lobster) family worldwide. They occur in almost all warm seas (including Caribbean and Mediterranean) but are most prolific in the southern hemisphere, particularly Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Available wild-caught (though Southern Rocklobsters are being assessed for aquaculture), these marine crustaceans are found around the Australian coast usually under rocks or in crevices, only venturing out after dark to scavenge for small crabs, clams and sea urchins.

There are 4 main types of Rocklobsters found in Australian waters:

Eastern Rocklobster

Eastern Rocklobster

(Jasus verreauxi), the world’s largest Rocklobsters (recorded up to 8kg), are found from the NSW-Queensland border to Bass Strait and the north east coast of Tasmania, and caught mainly off NSW. Their fishery is comparatively small, but valuable given their popularity in Sydney. They have short antennae and antennules (between the antennae), unlike Tropical and Western, and look similar to Southern, except for their greeny-black shell and smooth tail. They are available year round.

Southern Rocklobster

Southern Rocklobster

(Jasus edwardsii) are found from Geraldton, WA, south to Coffs Harbour, NSW, including around the Tasmanian coast, but are caught mainly off SA. They look similar to Eastern, with their short antennae and antennules, but their shell is rough-textured and orange-red. They are available year round.

Western Rocklobster

Western Rocklobster

(Panulirus cygnus) are endemic to Australia, they are found from Shark Bay to Albany, WA, and are closely related to Tropical. By far the most valuable commercial species in Australia (worth over half the value of total Australian finfish catch), they are mostly exported live or frozen to Japan, Taiwan or China. Their reddish-purple shell has fine fur on it. They have very long antennae and the flagella on the medium-length antennules between the antennae are also long and forked (unlike Eastern and Southern). Supplies peak from December to May, with closures from July to November.

Tropical Rocklobster

Tropical Rocklobster

(Panulirus ornatus and other Panulirus species except P.cygnus) have the widest distribution, from Margaret River, WA, around the northern coast of Australia down to the Central Coast of NSW, although they are mainly caught in Torres Strait, by spear or hand, with the fishery jointly managed by Australia and Papua New Guinea. Their body colour varies, but is often brightly patterned (especially the legs), their antennae are extremely long and the flagella on the long antennules are also long and forked. Ornate Rocklobsters (P.ornatus) are the main commercial Tropical Rocklobster in Australia and the largest, their supply peaks from March to October.

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