What will you be doing at midnight on Wednesday, July 27? Getting into bed — or into the ocean? If you're crazy about lobster, you just might be celebrating the start of the 2016 Florida miniseason, which takes place July 27 through 28.
The 2016 spiny lobster season opens this week with a two-day recreational sport hunt, followed by the regular commercial and recreational lobster season, which begins August 6 and runs through March 31. Each year, the mini-sport-season is held the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in the month of July.
These two days are especially frantic, as recreational lobster hunters take to the waters before the official start to the regular season. While most of the 50,000 registered sport-season lobster hunters will be in the Keys, thousands of recreational divers and snorkelers will be on the hunt for spiny lobster right here in South Florida.
Commercial fishermen can put their traps in the water beginning August 1 and pull them opening day of the regular season. During this time, each person can harvest no more than six lobsters per day — a number that is fixed across the state. For the early miniseason, however, that number temporarily goes up to 12.
Planning on catching some of these tasty crustaceans? Make sure you remember these important regulation requirements:
1. Size Matters.
Here's one time when size actually does matter. No one wants a small lobster for dinner. All lobsters — or, more specifically, all lobster carapaces, the hard upper shells — must be three inches and measured while in the water. When out during miniseasons, hunters are required to have a measuring device on them at all times.
2. A Dozen per Day.
Excluding Biscayne Bay and Monroe County (where you can only take six lobsters per day), divers are allowed to harvest up to 12 lobsters per person, per day during the miniseason. Bag possession limits are important: The number is fixed so there will be enough lobsters for all. Divers can possess no more than the daily bag limit of lobsters when out on the water, and when off the water, no more than the daily bag limit on the first day of the sport season — and no more than double the daily bag limit the second day. Reference the above chart for an easy-to-read guide on the two-day sport season bag limits. During the regular season, however, daily recreational bag and on-the-water possession limit is six spiny lobsters per person for all Florida waters, period.
3. Go for the Guys.
During miniseason, the harvesting of egg-bearing females is strictly prohibited — it's a good way to help protect the next generation (and your future catches). Lobsters have literally thousands of eggs that are easily visible, attached under the tail. While most lobsters have completed reproduction by the start of the fishing season, finding lobsters with eggs is common in July and August.
4. Know Where to Go.
No matter what time of year, lobster harvest is always prohibited in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne Bay, Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, certain areas of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and the specified no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Visit FloridaKeys.noaa.gov to learn more about areas in Monroe County that are open to spiny lobster harvest.
5. Don't Forget the Cooler.
Make sure you protect your catch with the right equipment. This should include a cooler big enough to hold the entire lobster. Spiny lobsters must remain whole — free from punctures or any storage method that could penetrate or crush their shells — until they are brought to shore. That means they'll also need a slightly damp space while being stored (wet newspaper can provide the perfect cushioning).
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6. Have Your Paperwork.
Make sure you have all the necessary paperwork with you at all times. A recreational saltwater fishing license and a spiny lobster permit are required to recreationally harvest spiny lobsters unless you are exempt from recreational license requirements.
7. Get Some Lionfish While You're at It.
Do double duty while you are hunting for lobster, and help keep the lionfish population under control by removing them from Florida waters. This nonnative fish is often found in the same areas as spiny lobster, but while the lobster are supposed to be there, the lionfish is an invasive species known for its negative impact on Florida's native wildlife and habitats. Learn more about the state's lionfish challenge program at MyFWC.com.
8. Dive Safety First.
Diving safely is one of the most important things to keep in mind during miniseason, when hundreds of divers will be in local waters. Divers, even those who wade in, should stay within 300 feet of a properly displayed divers-down warning device ( like red flags or buoys with a white diagonal stripe) when in open water and within 100 feet of a properly displayed divers-down warning device 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 warning device in open water or 100 feet of one on a river, inlet, or navigational channel.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.