STATEWIDE — At the top of every fisherman’s bucket list is the spiny lobster season in the Florida Keys.
The state of Florida created a short sportsman season to allow recreational users to catch lobsters prior to traps being deployed for the commercial season.
The season, known as the “Mini Lobster Season,” is a special two-day event that opens this year on July 30 and lasts 48 hours. Nine days after the mini-season, the commercial spiny lobster season runs Aug. 6 through March 31.
Harvested for their tail meat, spiny lobster support important fisheries from Bermuda to Brazil, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In the United States, fishermen primarily harvest the lobster off south Florida and in the Florida Keys.
Lobsters have been harvested commercially since the early 1800s, though it wasn’t until the 1940s that it evolved into a viable industry.
Last year, according to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Fisheries, commercial fishermen brought in nearly four million pounds of lobster, worth $23 million; 90 percent came from the Gulf Coast. In addition, recreational lobster fishers contribute an estimated $24 million annually to south Florida and the Florida Keys economy.
During the two day season, law enforcement officers expect more than 50,000 fishermen hunting lobster. The number of boats, particularly in the Florida Keys and near coral reefs, is 900 times higher than during the remainder of the season. That is why law enforcement officers from the FWC, U.S. Coast Guard, and numerous local police agencies post a heavy presence on waterways and at boat ramps and marinas to ensure boaters are complying with rules around size limits and safety equipment.
The spiny lobster doesn’t have the large claws for hunting and defense like its cousin from the state of Maine. Its main defense is speed, according to FWC authorities. The lobster prefers hiding places such as crevices in reefs or outcroppings, a rocky section or coral areas on the ocean bottom. And those found in the unprotected, open sand areas are not easy pickings. With one flip of the tail, these critters can take off, leaving a diver bewildered and empty-handed.
Authorities also urge divers to be weary of current weather conditions and stay hydrated.
• Only 6 lobsters may be taken per person per day in Monroe County, commonly known as the Florida Keys.
• Only 12 lobsters per person per day for the rest of Florida.
• Possession limits will be strictly enforced on and off the water.
• Night diving during the two-day sport season is not allowed in Monroe County.
• Lobsters cannot be taken during both the 2-day sport season and regular season in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and no take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
• Divers are not allowed to use equipment that could puncture the lobster’s shell including spears, hooks, and wire snares.
• Divers and snorkelers are required to display a “divers-down” flag (red with a white diagonal stripe) while in the water.
• Spiny lobster has a minimum size limit that must be larger than 3″ carapace, measured in the water.
• Egg-bearing lobsters must be released unharmed. The egg mass is typically orange, yellow, brown, or red found covering the bottom of the lobster’s tail.
• Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times.
• Unless exempt, a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit are required to harvest spiny lobster.
• Licenses are available through dive shops, many tackle shops, and marine supply stores as well as the FWC website.
• Regular spiny lobster season is Aug. 6 through March 31. The bag limit is 6 per person per day.
For more information, visit myfwc.com or http://tinyurl.com/ksxauzw.