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Stock Up On Butter; Bug Hunting Is Upon Us!

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On: Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 12:38PM | By: Clay Ritchings

Photo By Joe Noonan

Florida Keys lobsters are quite different from their northern cousins. For one thing, they don’t have claws. Instead, they’re known as spiny lobsters—that is why, later in this article, I will suggest a tough pair of gloves. Their meat has a slightly chewy sweetness that Maine lobsters can’t hope to emulate. Buy lots of butter, but don’t melt it yet. The most popular way to serve lobster is steamed, boiled or grilled with the aforementioned melted butter, but you first have to catch them! Thankfully, the Lobster Mini Season 2010 is upon us.

With only days left before the season begins, I am getting very excited. I've started organizing my gear and making sure I don't need to purchase a new lobster tickle stick, or a new lobster net. The Lobster Mini Season is one of the most popular summer boating and diving events in the Florida Keys; every year Key West goes lobster crazy when it officially opens on July 28-29. The whole area becomes a mad house! Would-be lobster hunters coming and going, boats on trailers up and down the main drag, it’s more like a festival than a mere two-day lobster season. Try it once—you're hooked!

We get on the water before sunrise—what a beautiful place at this hour. Bring your camera because the sunrise is just as beautiful as the sunset in the Keys. You will need to be extra careful with getting the first ones out, it’s still a bit on the dim side, especially underwater and they’ll creep out and escape when you’re putting the other one in your catch bag. They have the advantage here.

We try to cover as much water as possible by “power snorkeling.” We attach a couple ski ropes to the back of the boat that will pull the snorkelers slowly around as they scan the bottom for lobster hiding in holes. Once someone locates some they dive immediately to tickle the bugger out and into the net. The boat will circle slowly and retrieve the catch and allow the diver to grab the rope again; only to repeat the cycle. Hopefully, our past successes can be repeated this year, which means there will be plenty of lobster to drown in all that butter that we purchased...yum!

There are several very important things to keep in mind if you dive for lobsters in Key West's waters. This is not an official publication of lobster season rules and regulations. For more information on lobstering, lobster season dates, bag limits, and more, please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Lobster Season web page.

Your Diver Down Flag— In state and federal waters, all vessels with divers or snorkelers in the water are required to post a diver down flag. Please post your dive flag, stay near it, and respect others' dive areas. Use idle speed within 100 yards of a dive flag or diver. Lower your dive flag when divers are out of the water. It is important that you use a dive flag; last year we were near the Seven Mile Bridge, motoring along on the lookout for lobsters when I noticed air bubbles from a diver right in front of our boat. We immediately put the boat in neutral to keep from mauling the diver who felt it was not important to have a dive flag, even though he was in the middle of hundreds and hundreds of boats. When you look up out of the water, it’s scary how many boats are around you; it looks like a city in the distance with all the boats anchored one after the other.

Be Kind to Coral— Coral is protected from damage and harvest in all Keys waters. Be careful not to contact coral while conducting your lobster harvest. Do not flip or overturn coral or rocks. This activity not only kills coral and other marine life, but also destroys future homes and hiding places for lobster.

Anchor in Sand or Use a Mooring Buoy—To avoid damaging the reef, be sure your anchor is carefully lowered into a white sandy area. Check to be sure your anchor line and/or chain is not contacting any hard or soft corals.

License Requirements— Recreational harvesters are required to possess a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License with a current crawfish stamp. Consult your license agent for exemptions to licensing requirements. Licenses are available through local tax collectors, many tackle shops and marine supply stores.

State and Federal Waters— National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) navigational charts should be used to distinguish state and federal waters. Look for the gray, curved line marked "Territorial Sea" on the Atlantic side, and the "Natural Resources Boundary" on the Gulf side. (Teall's Map: does not show the state/federal boundary line. Enforcement officers will be using NOAA charts to determine the boundaries).

Gear— Spears, hooks and wire snares that injure lobster are not allowed.

Bully Netting— Using a circular frame attached at a right angle to the end of a pole and supporting a conical bag of webbing is permitted. Possession of bully nets is prohibited in Everglades National Park.

Measuring Gauge— Each harvester must have a gauge made for measuring lobster while harvesting in the water.

Size Limit— Lobster carapace must be greater than three (3) inches. All lobster must be measured in the water and released unharmed if undersized.

Possession— Lobster must be of legal size before they are in possession. For example, lobster in your catch bag in the water is considered in possession. All lobster must remain in whole condition while at sea. NOTE: You may not have lobster in your possession in Everglades National Park.

Spanish and Slipper Lobster— These are closed to harvest in Key Largo and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuaries, Everglades National Park, Pennekamp State Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park.

Egg-Bearing (Berried) Lobster— Egg-bearing lobster of any species must be released unharmed. Eggs are an orange, yellow, brown, or red mass found covering the underside of the lobster's tail.

Commercial Lobster Traps— Remember, it is a felony to molest, damage, or take lobster from traps in state or federal waters.

Navigation in Keys Waters is Tricky—Coral heads and sea grass beds can be a few inches below the water’s surface. Avoid damage to these important habitats and your boat.

Safety First, Lobsters Second—Many divers don’t realize how much more strenuous a hunt dive is compared to a regular recreational dive. No Lobster is worth a life, Be Safe!

If you're going to be in Key West this month, dive down and grab yourself a lobster! And feel free to melt the butter!

Florida Marine Patrol, 800-DIAL-FMP (342-5367)
Marathon Office, 305-289-2320, 800 ASK-FISH

Florida Keys Lobster Season:
July 28-29, 2010 & August 6, 2010-March 31, 2011
Where: Atlantic & Gulf Waters

Photo Courtesy Joe Noonan,

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)


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