Wednesday’s opener of the two-day statewide lobster mini-season was uncharacteristically quiet in South Florida. Unlike the past several summers, Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys had no diving-related deaths or serious injuries in the quest for backyard barbecue stardom.
The weather was calm and beautiful, and even the usually murky near shore waters around Government Cut were clear and warm. Small boats dotted the horizon as far as one could see. But the favorable conditions didn’t necessarily translate into limit catches of 12 per person for some scuba divers and snorkelers in Miami-Dade and Broward waters.
A spot check of lobster hunters off Miami Beach found wide variations in bug-bagging success — even between boats anchored not far apart.
“I’m getting mixed messages,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said. “I think it has to do with the ability of the divers.”
A crew of seven aboard the large sportfisher Anejo caught 40 lobsters in about 3½ hours of diving in the ocean off Fisher Island and in Biscayne Bay near the Venetian Causeway. Their legal bag limit was 84. Diver Mike Simpson was not happy.
“It sucks,” Simpson said. “Normally we’re in by now.”
But four men diving from a 25-foot boat south of the jetty at Government Cut would have swooned for the Anejo’s catch.
“We caught three. They were too small,” said a Sunrise diver who declined to give his name because he was playing hooky from work. “It’s my first year. We’re having a good time. It’s a beautiful day to do it.”
A short distance away from the unlucky Sunrise man and his party, three Miami men on a 23-foot open-fisherman filled their cooler with 30 lobsters diving with a surface-supplied air compressor. Nearing their limit, Alex Crespi and his two friends were feeling pretty good about their efforts until FWC officer Bryan Loureiro measured their catch and found seven undersized bugs.
“Guys, you’re putting me in a bad spot,” Loureiro told them. “I can understand one or two or three, but seven?”
The officer gave Crespi a notice to appear in court for the second-degree misdemeanor charge.
Loureiro and two colleagues continued their patrol and came upon five men in a 19-foot boat who had caught 32 lobsters and speared a hefty red grouper and three hogfish while snorkeling.
“We usually go to the Keys. This year, we decided to do it in Miami,” diver Hector Meireles of Miramar said. “If people are not catching them when the water is crystal clear, there’s something wrong.”
Loureiro found one sub-legal lobster among their catch, but gave the men a break.
“One, we’ll let you slide,” the officer told Meireles.
The FWC boat idled up to a 27-foot cabin cruiser called Grim Deeper with Jackie Perholtz of Stuart at the helm towing a floating compressor in about 25 feet of water. Perholtz said her husband Robert had been down there diving since early morning and had bagged only five. The couple had driven their boat and truck to Miami separately, and had rented a hotel room.
“These lobsters, whatever amount we get, will end up being $100 apiece,” Perholtz told the officers. “I said, ‘Why don’t we go to Publix?’ ”
For those too proud to go to the supermarket, lobster mini-season ends at midnight Thursday. Divers and snorkelers may take 12 per person per day everywhere except the Keys and Biscayne National Park, where the limit is six. The carapace (head) must be greater than three inches, and measured in the water.
The regular harvest season for commercial and recreational divers and trappers runs Aug. 6 through March 31.