The last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July each year marks the sport season for spiny lobster (panulirus argus) and for some the two-day event will be fun and enjoyable. For others, it could mean injury or death. While the last time a death occurred during the mini-season was in 2009, the number of boats on the water, the number of people in the water, and the fact that much of the lobster hunting takes place at night combine to create a recipe for boating and diving mishaps.
One very common mistake made by boaters is that they lose situational awareness. They become preoccupied looking for a place to anchor or don’t keep a “weather eye,” or don’t look out for wakes from other boats or they fail to keep track of divers in the water; all of which could result in a boating mishap, injury or even death.
Diving at night (which is prohibited in Monroe County) can be hazardous and this is a time when boaters need to be extra vigilant. Make sure your boat is well lit. Check that all of your lights, running and anchor, are working properly before leaving the dock. Make sure you have both day and night visual distress signals on board and the correct number and type of personal floatation devices. It’s a little late now, but a free safety inspection by the Coast Guard Auxiliary would have insured that you have everything you need to meet federal boating regulations. It’s during events like the mini-season that law enforcement vessels are out in force to enforce both boating and fishing regulations so it behooves all boaters to get their boats in tip top shape. It would be a real shame to be boarded and have your voyage terminated because you had only out-of-date flares on board.
Like most recreational species (see the FWC web site for all the details), the spiny lobster has specific size and bag limits. For the mini-season the bag limits are 6 lobsters per person per day for Monroe County and Biscayne National Park, and 12 per person per day for the rest of Florida. While on the water the limit is equal to the daily bag limit. Off the water the possession limit is equal to the daily bag limit on day one, and double the daily limit on day two. Keep in mind that possession limits are enforced both on and off the water.
In addition to bag limits the carapace of legal spiny lobster must be greater than 3 inches as measured beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns down the middle of the carapace to the rear edge, and the measurement must be made in the water. One must have a measuring device on your person at all times, together with a recreational saltwater fishing license and a crawfish permit.
Besides bag and size limits it is prohibited to take egg-bearing females, spear lobsters, or harvest them from the Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary. Consult the National Park Service web site for a map of the area.
The mini-season begins at 12:01am Wednesday, July 27, not 11:59pm on Tuesday, July 26, so check your watches. Law enforcement boats will be on the lookout for divers trying to get a head start on the season. Make sure your dive gear and vessel are in tip top shape and that you maintain situational awareness, keeping a close lookout for diver-down flags (stay at least 300 feet away), other vessels, persons in the water, and, of course, the weather.
So have fun but, above all, boat safe. You’ll want to be able to enjoy that scrumptous lobster dinner after all is said and done.