Opinion Columns

Lobster tags could help decrease mini-season abuse

The spiny lobster carapace must be at least 3 inches long to be legal to harvest.
The spiny lobster carapace must be at least 3 inches long to be legal to harvest. WLRN

The lobster mini-season is less than two months away. We are a nation based on the rule of law. Ideally, our representatives craft laws that protect life, property and opportunity on a basis of equality for all and our government non-judgmentally enforces those laws.

However, all too often when laws created to protect our natural resources are violated, they are considered as non-victimless crimes and as such viewed by many as something that is OK to do, even to brag about, as long as you don’t get caught. And that is a shame and a stain on our national character, but it unfortunately has always been, and still is, a fact of life in our society.

That brings me to our greatly heralded and exploited lobster mini-season. Crimes against the laws crafted to protect our natural resources are rampant during these crazy two days (for a couple of weeks before, as well).

Our Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers have their hands full trying to deal with exceeding catch limits, multiple trips, wringing tails underwater, hiding lobster tails in secret compartments and selling recreational catches during the lobster season, but especially so during the mini-season.

There may be a way, however, to help them with this often unappreciated task at this time. The following is a possibility, and perhaps a better possibility can be developed.

A certain number of mini-season lobster fishery permits would be issued each year (possibly just for Monroe County or for the entire state). The number of permits would be based on a fair allocation of the lobster resource between the commercial and recreational sectors and perhaps also on demographic information (number of visiting lobster fishermen the Keys could reasonably host).

Or there would be only the need to register to participate in the mini-season, which could be done upon arrival in the Keys. Each individual receiving a mini-season permit would be issued two inexpensive plastic flags, one for each day of the mini-season. Each flag would be of a different color and the end of the flag would have six numbered strips (six lobster per person per day are allowed), about one inch wide and eight to 12 inches long, that could be torn (if the edges are perforated) or cut off the flag.

The numbers, one though six, printed on the strips would be large and clearly identify each flag-tag strip. Any information, dates, permit numbers, etc., that might be necessary could easily be printed on the flags and the tags. The colors of the flags could be easily changed every year to prevent illegal use of flags from previous years. The use of the flag is intended for only one day so the most inexpensive of materials that will adequately serve the purpose can be used.

The flag would have to be displayed on the boat so that it could be seen at a distance and the flag for each permitted lobster fisherman aboard the boat would have to be displayed. When a legal lobster is taken aboard, one of the strips on the flag would be removed and tied about the tail of the lobster.

After all the six flag-tags were removed from the flag and tied to a lobster tail, the legal limit for that fisherman for that day would be reached and he or she would not be able to take more lobster that day. The flag-tags would be required to remain with the lobster if the lobster is transported out of Monroe County.

A marine patrol officer would know from just observing the flags displayed on a boat how many permitted fishermen were operating aboard the boat and how many lobsters each fisherman had taken up to that time. The fishermen would be in violation if there were untagged legal lobsters aboard the boat, if more than the legal limit of lobsters were present or if the flag-tag strips had been removed from the flag before the lobsters were taken.

That would be a deterrent to fishermen taking and tagging lobsters, returning to shore, removing the tags from the landed lobsters and then returning to take more lobster than their daily limit).

The flag-tag system would be helpful to marine patrol officers in that a rapid assessment of the activity and assertions of the fishermen would be visible before approaching the boat and interacting with the fishermen.

Martin Moe Jr. is a retired marine biologist and long-time resident of the Florida Keys. His current project as an adjunct scientist with Mote Marine Laboratory is developing technology for hatchery culture of the keystone herbivore of our coral reefs and the long-spined diadema sea urchin.