Everything you need to know about Florida Keys lobster miniseason

Fisherman organizing lobsters – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by WoodysPhotos

The Florida Keys are without a doubt the best place in the state to go recreational lobstering. The abundance of spiny lobsters, the consistently clean water, the enormous environment, and the shoreside services for divers are unmatched.

What is necessary to keep that appeal? Being aware of and following the harvest laws and rules, some of which are specific to Monroe County and the Keys. The guiding principle behind seasons, bag limitations, and size limits is sustainable harvest, which ensures that the lobster population repopulates itself every year. Agencies at the state, local, and federal levels also consider human safety. These organizations frequently provide rules and suggestions for equipment and procedures that reduce the risks connected with sailing and scuba diving. Preserving the area’s distinctive habitats and ecology is a crucial concern as well. That entails following the rules and boundaries established by the National Park Service, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and other organizations.

The majority of what you need may be found at www.KeysLobsterSeason.com. The dedicated website offers films outlining boating and diving safety advice, current rules and restrictions for lobster harvesting in the Keys, such as daily limitations, and emphasizes staying away from banned no-take zones within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s boundaries.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sets the rules for lobster harvesting. To determine catch limits that allow for human enjoyment without upsetting the balance necessary to maintain spiny lobsters and other marine animals in healthy numbers that support yearly abundance, the commission takes into account advice from marine biologists, annual harvest reports, and other sources. 

To begin with, the majority of harvesters require both a lobster permit and a saltwater fishing license. A few things are exceptions.

Whether or not you are exempt, purchasing a license or lobster permit contributes to the funding of crucial research, enforcement, and other projects that support sustainable fishing.

Before the normal season, a unique two-day window is designated each year for harvesting solely for fun or “sport.” It takes place on the final two Wednesdays and Thursdays of every year. The Spiny Lobster Sport Season for 2023 will take place on July 26–27. Many refer to it as the “mini-season.”

Spiny Lobster’s regular season begins on August 6 and lasts through March 31.

No night diving is allowed in Monroe County during the mini-season, which is a minor but significant season detail. (In some areas of Florida, daring divers take the plunge on July 26 after midnight utilizing customized lighting systems to start the brief season early. Inadmissible in the Keys.)

Additionally, the minimum size is uniform and simple to understand: The carapace of a spiny lobster designated as a “keeper” must measure more than 3 inches in depth. At all times, a measuring device must be in your possession and in use. The right measuring tools are inexpensive and simple to get at diving shops and tackle stores. 

One crucial factor affects how many lobsters one harvester may take, and it varies by region:  The bag limit in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park is six items per person during the sport or mini-season.  The cap for the remainder of Florida is 12 sports per individual each season.  The statewide limit is six during the regular season, which begins on August 6.

Some other rules to ensure the spiny lobster population remains robust:

They need to land in perfect condition. There is no separating the body from the tail at sea.

No taking or keeping of spiny lobsters or any other lobsters that lay eggs, including the tasty slipper lobster that sometimes gets seen by watchful divers. 

No spiny lobster may be harvested or attempted to be harvested using any tool that might or might pierce, crush, or puncture the shell or flesh. Included in that are spears, gigs, hooks, etc. 

Seasonal possession restrictions for sports in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park: Only when transporting the catch by car on or after the second day of the sport season is there a 2-day restriction of spiny lobster—6 per day. 

Trapping for fun is not allowed. In state or federal seas, it is also illegal to tamper with, molest, or remove lobster from traps. Whether you like them or not, the family’s income comes from those commercial lobster traps with the buoys dotting the horizon. Robbery in a trap is a felony. 

Keep away from the equipment.

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