The lobster mini-season in South Florida and the Florida Keys has long been a tradition during the summer. This annual feeding frenzy of scuba divers descending on the coral reefs in search for a meal of spiny lobsters takes place between July 27-28 this year.
Although I won’t be giving you exact “hot spots” to search for these delicious crustaceans, there’s one thing that’s for sure: you are better off finding bigger lobsters in West Palm Beach than the more popular destination of the Florida Keys.
“Not many people know that there are larger lobsters in West Palm (than the Keys). The more north the lobsters (migrate), the more they eat and bigger they get,” Captain Todd Bailey, from Aqua Hunter Dive and Fish Charter out of Lake Park Marina said. “The difference is 1 to 1 1/2 pounds in the Keys to10 pounds in Stuart.”
This year’s event begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, July 27 and ends at 12:00 midnight Thursday, July 28. As the case is every year, there will still be a lot of people out for the experience and the trill of the mini-season.
“It’s that time of year in late July for 48 fun hours divers will come from all parts of the country to take whats there’s,” Bailey said.
The regulations for this free-for-all are strictly enforced to ensure the safety of the diver and the safety of the environment. You can find these regulations at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission : the bag limits are 6 per person per day for Monroe County and Biscayne National Park and 12 per person per day for the rest of Florida. Also very important is the minimum size limit – the lobsters must be larger than 3″ carapace, measured in the water. Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times, and night diving is prohibited in Monroe County (only during the sport season).
“It’s important to follow the regulations to insure that we have future lobster seasons,” Bailey said. “Be sure to take your lobster gauges to check for size and look for eggs before putting them into your bag. When you reach your bag limit pick up a spear gun and take some fish home with you too.”
Just as important as the regulations are the environmental concerns. The most popular place to find the lobsters is the coral reef, which is a protected area in our waters. There’s a famous quote that says “take only pictures and memories… leave only bubbles”. This reiterates that the reef is a very special, yet fragile environement. People can easily damage many things without realising it. For example, by touching coral, even gently, you are scraping away the skin or protective layer of mucus that protects the coral from picking up an infection.
We need to remember that the reef is also a living organism. Divers are not supposed to touch, hold on to, stand on, break or otherwise harm the coral.
Also be cautious of specific fish when searching for lobsters.
“This year, you want to watch out for lion fish. They’re slow moving and pretty to look at but they pack a punch. They will be in all lobster areas and are not native to Florida and are to be killed on sight. Just cut the spines off before putting them into your bag and you can take the lion fish home for table fare with your lobsters,” Bailey said.
Bailey also encourages divers to do their research before participating. For a full list of regulations on where and when you can dive please visit www.floridakeys.noaa.gov or contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (888) 404-3922.