New commercial-fishing rules on using a bully net to scoop lobsters off the sea floor could be in place by the 2017 season opening, depending on a Feb. 8 vote.
If given final approval by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, bully-netting would become a more regulated sector within the state season on spiny lobster but would remain open to new commercial fishers. The bully-netting issue now is included on the consent agenda for the FWC’s Feb. 8 and 9 meeting in Crystal River, following preliminary approval at a November meeting.
The eight-month lobster season runs Aug. 6 through March 31. No new permits, if approved, would be issued for the season now under way.
“Bully-netting would stay open-access, meaning it’s not limited just to people doing it now,” said Amanda Nalley, spokeswoman for FWC’s Marine Fisheries office.
The night-fishing technique, using a spotlight and long-handled net to catch lobster on the bottom, “has a history of allowing people to enter the fishery at a low cost, and the commission wants to keep that,” Nalley said. “It also would let us know how many people actually are bully-netting.”
The other two methods of commercial harvesting of lobster are strictly limited. Trap-fishing allows a maximum 475,000 licensed traps in the industry and commercial diving for lobster is limited to about 250 licensed divers.
People seeking to become a commercial bully-netter must purchase a state Saltwater Products License to sell seafood and qualify for a restricted-species permit for lobster. That typically means a newcomer would likely have to work with a lobster boat or license holder until he or she earns enough money from fishing to qualify for his or her own restricted species permit. However, there are certain exemptions.
A rise in the price of lobster in recent years spurred more interest in commercial bully-netting. The number of bully-netters tripled, from about 100 to 300, state analysts said. Since the Florida Keys produce more spiny lobster than any other area, bully netters are more common in local waters.
Other aspects of the proposal up for approval at the February meeting:
▪ Commercial bully-net vessels would be marked with their bully-net and lobster endorsement number.
▪ Prohibit trap pullers on bully-net vessels “to prevent fishers from using the bully-net fishery as a cover for illegal activity.”
▪ Prohibit possession of scuba gear on a bully-net boat that holds commercial quantities of lobster, unless the netter also has a commercial lobster-diving endorsement.
▪ Like commercial-dive boats, bully-net boats would be limited to 250 lobster per day.
If approved, the law likely would become effective in May, in time to process applications for the August season opening. For information go to www.myfwc.com.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206