The water is warm, seas are calm, and dive shops are booming! Summertime is here and everyone is working extra hard to get visitors out on the water. Among all the days, July 26th and 27th will be two of the busiest this year. Thats right, Spiny Lobster Sport Season “Mini Season” is coming and dive operators are gearing up.
Spiny lobster is a sought after species not only commercially but also recreationally. Each year mini lobster season opens up for the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. This short two day period brings an economic boost across the Florida Keys and some of the largest beneficiaries are those in the diving industry. As visitors fill the hotels and resorts, they also fill up the dive boats. When choosing the correct dive operator there are many considerations that come into play and the following is a guide to help you get the most out of your mini lobster diving vacation.
One of the first questions to ask, is how large of a group are you comfortable with? Everyone wants to partake in mini season and dive vessels will be filled up. If you don’t like crowds you may want to seek out an operator that offers private or smaller “six pack” charters. Also consider the license and permits that are involved. Many dive operators have a charter boat license with a lobster endorsement that will cover you when lobstering on their vessel. This license is generally included in their rate and saves you money and time for not having to purchase your own. If it is your first time lobstering, be sure to ask the crew about equipment and tips for catching them. Many operators will provide the gear for you and can show you how to use it. It can be very difficult to capture lobster without the proper gear and knowledge on its use. One of the biggest concerns when choosing a dive operator is the way their vessel and crew interact with the environment. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognizes charter operators with the Blue Star Program for promoting sustainable and responsible diving practices. It is important to look for the Blue Star Operator rating when booking your dive charter.
Before you splash, please review the regulations that are listed online at myfwc.com and bring any questions you may have to the knowledgeable dive crew aboard. When you arrive to the dive site it is important to remember that you and everyone else is there to catch lobster. If you are on a busy charter boat, be courteous to others and take your time. Being the first diver in the water does not necessarily mean you will get a lobster. Those who are most successful will carefully search the reef and give space to other. Spiny lobster are nocturnal and can be found hiding during the day in holes, under ledges, and in reef crevices. It is important to respect the environment you are visiting and at no cost should any coral or marine life be damaged.
Once you find a lobster, take your time, check your buoyancy and get your lobster gear ready. I believe a “tickle stick” that has a bent tip will work best to get the lobster out into the open. To do this, just slide the stick alongside the lobster until the bent tip is behind his tail. Slowly pull the stick back towards you and the lobster will walk out with ease.
Place your net behind the lobster’s tail. If you can get it close to the sand or bottom that is best. Now that you are in position, gently move the stick towards the net and allow the lobster to walk backwards with it. Once in the net you need to quickly and carefully get your hand onto the lobster, remember the word “spiny” is in their name for a reason. If the lobster is an egg-bearing female or has a carapace measuring three inches or less, it must be released unharmed. Remember that only legal lobster can be removed from the water. If it is your first time lobstering you may want to hire an experienced guide, to help you have a successful and safe hunt. Capturing lobster is fairly simple but does take some patience to master. Each individual is allowed six lobster per day and can harvest a seventh during mini season if they enter into the 2017 Recreational Lionfish Challenge, which is put on by FWC. For more information on this challenge, visit myfwc.com.
Good luck and happy buggin’!
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