The annual Florida spiny lobster miniseason is Wednesday and Thursday, and thousands of people are expected to be on the water to hunt for dinner.
The recreational fishing event is highly popular — and highly regulated.
So, if you plan on diving, snorkeling or bullynetting lobster this year, here’s what you need to know, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
When it starts
The two-day miniseason, which precedes the annual eight-month recreational and commercial season that starts Aug. 8, begins Wednesday morning at 12:01 a.m. and ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Do not fish for lobster a minute before or after the two-day season or you could end up with a fine or even jail time.
The bag limit
The daily bag limit is six per person, per day in the Florida Keys and within Biscayne National Park. Anywhere else in the state, it’s 12 per person, per day.
“If you’re one over, you’re in violation,” said FWC public information officer Ronald Washington. “And we will address it if you’re caught.”
The carapace of each lobster, the part that is not the tail, must be a minimum of three inches long. The lobster must be measured in the water, and must be brought back to land whole. Also, anglers must be in possession of a measuring device at all times.
If a boat brings back only tails, they can be cited or arrested, Washington said, as authorities are unable to determine whether the lobster was undersized without the carapace.
Night diving or snorkeling in the Florida Keys is prohibited during miniseason. Night time anglers in the Keys use bullynets, which are poles with a down-facing net on the end. Lights are typically shone from boats in shallow water so bullynetters can spot the lobsters on the bottom.
Anglers can dive at night in the rest of the state and in the Keys during the regular season.
All lobster anglers must possess a recreational state saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit.
“That should be the first thing people are getting before they go lobstering,” Washington said. “And they should have that available for inspection by an officer.”
Where you can’t go
Lobstering is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the two-day season, and always in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and in certain “no-take” zones of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and no-take areas of Biscayne Bay and the Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary. To find out more about these areas, call (305) 852-7717 or go to FloridaKeys.noaa.gov.
What you can’t use
It’s also important to remember that you cannot fish for lobsters with a speargun, pole spear or any device that will crack their shells. And, egg-bearing female lobsters must be left alone. Recreational anglers are also prohibited from using traps.
Puncturing the lobster kills it instantly, which isn’t a humane way of hunting them, Washington said. In addition, it prevents authorities from ensuring all lobsters killed meet the size requirements.
Expect a heavy law enforcement presence on the water with officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade Police Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Parks Service, the National Marine Sanctuary and other agencies.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said last week that those caught violating lobster laws in the county who choose to fight charges in court face fines up to $500 for every violation and 60 days in jail.
“We welcome visitors and residents alike this time of year,” Ramsay said in a statement. “That being said, everyone needs to be aware of the law and act in a safe, responsible manner, especially while on the water.”
Ramsay also warns locals that marine equipment thefts are common throughout the year in the Keys, and thieves often use miniseason as an opportunity to target docked boats. He advises people remove electronics and fishing and diving equipment from their vessels.
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward has made prosecuting fisheries violators a priority for his administration. He said in a press release issued ahead of miniseason that his office has established baseline plea offers for violators that include 10 days in jail for one lobster over the bag limit, 10 days for one out-of-season lobster and 10 days for every speared lobster.
“Ideally, people would not violate the rules, which are established to protect and maintain our sensitive marine environment,” Ward said in a statement. “But if they do, in most cases, we will offer options to the offenders that are meant to both send them a message and to raise their awareness of the importance of preserving our resources.”