Florida lobster mini-season runs Wednesday through Thursday
The most exciting time of year for South Florida lobster lovers is Wednesday and Thursday. That’s when Florida’s annual mini-season gives them their first chance to grab a delicious dinner since the regular lobster season closed on April 1.
The lack of lobster traps and not being poked and prodded by divers armed with snares, tickle sticks and nets for nearly four months usually results in an abundance of less wary insects than usual for what is officially known as the two-day lobster sport. season.
As if that wasn’t reason enough to go diving for bugs, as they’re known for their insect-like appearance, when the mini-season begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Miami’s daily bag limit -Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are 12 lobsters per person, double the regular season limit.
The mini-season is more restrictive in the Keys, where the daily limit is six bugs – the mini-season daily limit is also six per person in Biscayne National Park – and no diving is allowed at night . The reason is to limit the number of divers descending on the Keys, where lobsters are generally more abundant, especially in the shallow waters surrounding the island chain. Many lobster hunters catch them in six to 10 feet of water using only a mask, flippers, and snorkel.
Also, no lobster fishing is permitted in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo during the mini-season. And law enforcement is on the water and ashore checking that divers have too many lobsters as well as undersized insects – the hard shell or shell of a lobster must be over three inches – and egg-bearing females.
It should be noted that state prosecutors and judges in the Keys take lobster cases seriously, issuing fines and sometimes even confiscating boats and vehicles used to commit flagrant violations.
Safety is also a concern during the mini-season, mainly because many divers haven’t been in the water since last year’s mini-season. Their diving skills might not be as sharp and their diving equipment might not work properly. Cracked hoses that leak air and mask and fin straps that are about to tear can endanger a diver’s life.
One of the biggest dangers of the mini-season is divers running out of air. In their excitement to reach their limit, some divers who have enough air in their tank to bring them safely to the surface spot a lobster and decide to chase it.
Using a trap or tickle stick and a net to coax an insect out of hiding in a reef or under a ledge can take some time. When divers focused on catching one more lobster suddenly realize they’ve used up all their remaining air, they usually rush straight to the surface and don’t stop for a three-minute safety stop. to avoid decompression sickness, also known as bends. And some divers panic and never make it to the surface.
Some boaters, in their rush to get to their lobster hotspot, drive too fast and too close to dip the flags. Boats should make an effort to stay at least 300 feet from open water dive flags and slow down within this distance.
Safety conscious divers fly a dive flag on their boat and also have a dive flag on a float they tow behind them. This makes it easier for the person driving the boat to follow the divers through the water. They can also use the boat defensively when another boat is heading towards their divers by getting between the boat and the dive flag so the other boat has to move away.
Lobster hunters can celebrate a safe and successful mini-season opening day at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s 10th Anniversary BugFest. The event is offering up to $10,000 in cash, scuba gear, other prizes and rewards for divers participating in the Great Florida Bug Hunt, which costs $30 to participate. Registration for Bug Fest is open online at www.discoverlbts.com/bugfest and at Gold Coast Scuba in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and runs until 6 p.m. Tuesday.
BugFest activities include parties, concerts and a lobster cooking contest. It kicks off with a free seminar on lobster hunting by Jim “Chiefy” Mathie from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Plunge Beach Resort. This is followed by a mini-season kick-off party from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Divers can weigh their lobsters in several places. They can win $500 for the biggest bug caught on a boat and on the beach, and they also get a raffle ticket for every lobster they weigh. Raffle prizes include snorkel gear, dive boat trips and hotel stays.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Lobster Seasons: The annual lobster mini-season runs from 12:01 a.m. July 27 to midnight July 28. The regular season runs from August 6 to March 31.
Licenses: You must have a saltwater fishing license ($17 for residents) and a crawfish stamp ($5).
Limits: The mini-season bag limit is six lobsters per person per day in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park and 12 per person in the rest of the state. The regular season daily bag limit is six lobsters per person.
Legal lobsters: Lobsters must have a minimum carapace length of more than 3 inches and must be measured in the water. Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times. Lobsters must remain in good condition while in or on the water. No egg-bearing females can be captured.
Other regulations: Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during mini-season. Fishing for lobsters is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the off season. Harvesting is prohibited during mini-season and regular season in Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Crawfish Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas State Park, Prohibited Areas in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (visit http://floridakeys.noaa.gov) and in the five Coral Reef Protection Areas of Biscayne National Park (visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bnp).
Diving lodges: Dive flags on boats should be at least 20 by 24 inches and have braces to keep the flags unfurled. Dive flags on floats must measure at least 12 inches by 12 inches. Dive flags on boats should be displayed above the highest point of the vessel so that visibility of the flag is not obstructed in any direction. Boats should strive to stay at least 300 feet from dive flags in open waters and at least 100 feet from flags in rivers, creeks or shipping channels.
Information: Visit myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster. To report lobster violations, call Wildlife Alert at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
This story was originally published July 25, 2022 8:53 a.m.