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Keep lobster traps commercial, fish panels say

Receational harvesters chasing spiny lobster like these probably will have to use dive gear or a bullynet, as fishery managers dismiss a suggestion to allow recreational lobster trapping.
Receational harvesters chasing spiny lobster like these probably will have to use dive gear or a bullynet, as fishery managers dismiss a suggestion to allow recreational lobster trapping. Keynoter

Recreational lobster harvesters likely will have to stick to mask and fins or bullynets.

Florida fans of stone-crab claws who do not fish commercially can own five stone-crab traps to harvest their own crustacean claws. However, no such provision allows recreational lobster traps off the Florida Keys. Nor, it seems, will there be.

Two federal fishery management councils, covering the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, regulate waters beyond the state limit. Both councils now have rejected suggestions to create a trap allowance for recreational lobster harvesters.

Recreational lobster traps are illegal in both state and federal waters off Florida, where the vast majority of spiny lobster are found. Monroe County is by far the largest producer.

Whether states in the South Atlantic jurisdiction from North Carolina to Georgia could seek to use recreational traps in federal water was in question.

“Traps are not recreational gear. They are just not, ” South Atlantic Council member Chester Brewer, a West Palm Beach attorney and angler, said after a unanimous vote at the council’s Spiny Lobster Committee in March.

“It just opens up a whole can of worms that we really don’t want to get into,” South Atlantic Council member Michelle Duval agreed.

The full South Atlantic Council has endorsed a ban on recreational lobster traps, with final action expected to follow.

At the Gulf of Mexico Council meeting last week in Naples, the full board voted to support the South Atlantic Council's recommended ban on recreational lobster traps. The U.S. secretary of commerce will make the final decision on the rule.

The federal councils also are working on rule changes to conform with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s decision to allow an expanded commercial spiny lobster harvest in the bullynetting sector.

The Gulf Council took its final vote on an amendment that is expected to raise the annual catch limit for spiny lobster by using a larger range of historical harvests to calculate allowable take.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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