JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The spiny lobster recreational and commercial season closes to harvest in state and federal waters starting April 1, and will reopen Aug. 6. This is the normal span of the recreational and commercial season. You only have a little over a week to catch the tasty crustaceans before they get a break from the lobster traps and divers. The normal recreational and commercial season reopens August 5th and runs through March 31st of 2019.
The popular two-day recreational sport season is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, which is July 25 and 26 this year. Droves of people flock to south Florida and the Keys to hunt and gather the lobster during this time.
The two day recreational season in late July is open only to recreational fisherman, meaning the the miles of lobster traps are not yet lining the ocean, luring the spiny lobster in with bait, and it is typically much easier to find and catch the lobster for families.
The popular sport involves snorkeling or swimming, generally over reefs or reef-like areas looking for the spiny lobster's signature antennas sticking out from beneath a rock or ledge. The diver then approaches the lobster with a stick around three feet long and a net. The stick is called a tickle stick, because it is designed to be poked into the hole or beneath the ledge the lobster is hiding and wiggled around gently. Most of the time the lobster senses movement from behind him in his hiding spot, and will slowly walk out to see what is occurring. Once this happens, the diver places the net behind the lobster, as the lobster will quickly retreat backwards, trying to return to his hiding spot, but instead entering the diver's net.
Small lobsters may not be harvested, and the FWC requires every diver to also carry a measuring stick, designed to quickly ascertain if the lobster has reached the required three inches or longer in carapace length. Proper measurement technique includes placing the angled front end of the measuring device between the lobster's eyes, where there is a notch for it to rest. If the lobster is long enough to be legal, the measuring device will not fall down to reach the tail portion, because the carapace is longer than the three inch indention in the stick.
The FWC reminds us of enforcement during mini season, saying possession limits are enforced on and off the water, night diving is prohibited in Monroe County (only during the sport season,) and harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.
In addition to a regular saltwater fishing license, all who wish to hunt for spiny lobster must also purchase an additional lobster permit from the FWC. Other prohibitions include
- Lobster must be landed in whole condition. Separating the tail from the body is prohibited in state waters.
- The harvest or possession of eggbearing spiny lobster, or any other eggbearing species of lobster belonging to the families Palinuridae (spiny lobsters), Scyllaridae (slipper lobsters) or Synaxidae (furry lobsters) is prohibited
- No person shall harvest or attempt to harvest spiny lobster using any device which will or could puncture, penetrate or crush the exoskeleton (shell) or the flesh of the lobster
- Recreational trapping prohibited
- Regardless of what species you are fishing for, bag limits are only for properly licensed individuals and those people exempt from license requirements who are actively harvesting. People harvesting may not exceed their individual bag limit and take someone else's bag limit. That is, people (including children) who are not actively harvesting or are not properly licensed (if a license is required) may NOT be counted for purposes of bag limits.
Most of the resorts in the Keys that were ravaged by Hurricane Irma do plan to be open before the popular mini season rolls around.