I had the pleasure of diving with some friends last week in the Florida Keys. We were on the hunt for spiny lobster. We were able to hit our limit every morning. I’ve lived in Florida now for almost 8 years and this was my first lobster dive.
We’ve been eating lobster quesadillas every night and I’ll certainly be back out there before the end of the season. If you’ve never taken the opportunity to dive for lobster in South Florida, I highly recommend it. There are a lot of rules and regulations, so take a moment and learn the dos and don’ts before you head out or you may have an uncomfortable experience with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Don’t let a fun day on the water turn into a bad night at the county jail.
Mini season has come and gone. It’s always the last Thursday and Friday of July. Right now we’re about two weeks into the regular season, which runs August 6 to March 31st.
First things first, you need to go online and purchase a recreational saltwater fishing license and spiny lobster permit at www.myfwc.com/license. Once you have your license, make sure you have the proper equipment. I’m not going to go into all of the things you need for a successful dive. Rather, I’d like to make you aware of the must have equipment to be compliant with the law. One piece of equipment that you’ll need is a measuring stick. When you catch a lobster you need to measure the lobster in the water. The lobster must be 3 inches. FWC says, “the carapace is measured beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns, excluding any soft tissue, and proceeding along the middle to the rear edge of the carapace.” What does that mean? That means you have to place the measuring stick between the eyes/horns and measure down to where the tail starts. If it’s longer than 3 inches you’re good to go.
It is illegal to twist the tail off at this point. Take the whole lobster and put it in your bag or on the boat. If you twist the head off and bag the tail you are in violation of state law. Tails must be separated on land. Once separated, the tail must measure 5 ½ inches.
When you’re measuring the lobster, it’s a good time to flip the lobster over and check to see if there are eggs. Removing an egg bearing lobster is another way to violate the law. If there are eggs, they will be clearly visible on the underside of the lobster towards the bottom of the tail.
Another must have is a dive flag. You must have your divers-down flag displayed at all times when divers are in the water. Divers should stay within 300 feet of a properly displayed divers-down symbol on a flag or buoy when in open water and within 100 feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or buoy if on a river, inlet or navigation channel. Boat operators must slow to idle speed if they need to travel within 300 feet of a divers-down flag or buoy in open water or 100 feet of one on a river, inlet or navigational channel. The flag must be prominently displayed at the highest point possible.
Here are some other rules and regulations to keep in mind:
- You can’t spear a lobster or use any device that will puncture, penetrate, or crush the flesh of a lobster.
- Recreational trapping is prohibited – meaning no lobster traps.
- The bag limit – or amount of lobsters you can take – in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park is 6 per day is 6 per person (12 in other Florida waters). So, if you have 4 licensed divers, you can take 24 lobsters per day, right? Wrong! The bag limit is for each individual licensed diver, so of 3 divers catch a total of 15, the 4th can’t make up the difference and catch 9; the 4th diver is still limited to the individual bag limit of 6.
- Federal bag limits cannot be combined with federal bag limits.
- Know where to go. Check www.myfwc.com before you go. In specific areas, like Biscayne National Park or Everglades City, you are always prohibited from taking lobsters.
- Check the local jurisdictional rules for snorkeling and diving. For instance, in Islamorada, you cannot dive within 3oo feet of shore until after the first 5 days of regular season pass. Here’s a helpful chart: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/regs/mc_lobster.pdf.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it has a dog that can pick up on the scent of a lobster and can be used to find any extra ones people are trying to smuggle onto land.
For more information on the regulations and requirements of lobster mini-season click here http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/c5b083
If you have been cited or arrested and charged with possession of lobster out of season, possession of wrung tails on the water, possession of undersized lobster, or using a spear gun to take lobster, you may be facing up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine per violation if you are a first time offender. If this is not your first run in on the water the penalties are stiffer.