Commercial fishers can make their first lobster-trap pull Sunday while lobster divers can resume the hunt.
The eight-month commercial and recreational lobster season opens at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, launching the year’s most important harvest for the Florida Keys commercial fishing industry.
“It’s always a mystery until the first pull is made,” Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said of the new season’s potential.
More than three out of every four lobster traps licensed by Florida are fished in Keys waters, Kelly said Thursday. “The trap limit now is 465,000 traps and Monroe County accounts for 350,000 of those.”
The 2016-17 season that closed March 31 marked the third solid season for commercial fishers, with more than 5 million pounds of lobster brought to dock. An average legal-size lobster weighs one pound, say Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists.
Prices paid to trappers in the Keys last season generally ranged from $8.20 to $11 per pound, according to state statistics. Live lobster sought by the Asian market brings premium prices.
“Talk on the dock is always about what the [wholesale] price will be,” Kelly said. “To quote Gary Graves at Keys Fisheries, it’s all about how many are caught and what the demand is. It’s a supply-and-demand business.”
“The biggest impediments to lobster season are hurricanes and tropical storms,” Kelly said.
About 625 commercial lobster permits are issued to Keys trap fishermen, with most of the state’s 125 licensed commercial lobster divers working in the Keys.
Recreational divers also can resume the hunt for lobster Sunday, nine days after the close of this year’s July 26-27 sport season. Harvest limits remains at six per person per day but night diving and bullynetting is allowed. The night-fishing technique uses spotlight and long-handled net to catch lobster on the bottom
Some nearshore waters extending out 300 feet from shore are closed to all diving and snorkeling during the first days of regular season in many Keys areas. Check local regulations online or with Keys dive shops.
“We expect it to be busy, maybe busier than mini-season, so we’ll be out there,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Capt. David Dipre. Divers should be licensed, check lobster sizes while in the water, and have all required boating gear, he said.
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward has said that significant violations of lobster laws will be “vigorously” enforced with Keys prosecutors seeking costly fines and possible jail time.
Adalberto Garcia, 79, of Marathon was arrested around 7 p.m. Wednesday when Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies checked Garcia’s 5-gallon bucket at the Kemp Channel Bridge, near mile marker 24 in the Lower Keys.
“I could see in plain view Florida spiny lobster in the bucket that was full to the top,” wrote Deputy Vince Pacifico.
Deputy Jenna Moeller and Pacifico counted 29 lobster, of which eight were undersized. All were taken out of season. “All 29 lobster were returned to the water with the majority only partially alive,” Pacifico wrote.
Garcia also was arrested July 26, the opening day of mini-season, in the Lower Key by FWC Officer Martin Messier. Garcia then possessed 15 lobster, nine of which were were below the legal size limit, Messier wrote in his citation.
At midday Wednesday, Garcia remained in Monroe County jail on 60 conservation counts filed in Wednesday’s arrest.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206