Just in time for this week’s opening of regular lobster harvest season in Florida comes a new tool that helps divers become both safer and more successful.
The TAC Device combines a bug-catching snare with a red-and-white diver-down flag in a single, light-weight fiberglass unit. One end of the shaft holds the retractable snare, which the diver places around the lobster’s tail and cinches tight with a plunger. The other end holds the dive flag, which the diver opens and unfurls on the surface.
The two-in-one tool is the invention of Port Charlotte entrepreneur Thomas Contreras, 49 — motivated by a too-close call involving a boat and his son during a lobster diving trip in the Keys a few years ago.
“The boat went right over my son’s bubbles,” Contreras recalled with a shudder.
Fortunately, no one was injured, and Contreras rushed to Ace Hardware as soon as they returned to shore to make a prototype of what is now the TAC Device, named with the inventor’s initials. It came in handy on a later bug hunt when strong ocean currents carried Contreras too far away from his dive boat to swim back.
“It protects you when you’re coming up from the bottom and you can be seen easier,” he said. “If you get swept away by the current, you’re not alone.”
The device comes in two sizes — 5 feet long for catching lobsters lurking in longer caves ($100) and 2½ feet for up-close tickling ($60). The snare loop is made of aviation-grade stainless steel and the 12-by-12-inch dive flag is made of polyester. The device is sold online at www.TacDevice.com and at several retailers in Charlotte County. It recently won first prize among 40 entries in a Charlotte County innovation contest for inventors and entrepreneurs.
Contreras conducted a demonstration of the new gear on a lobster hunting trip Wednesday off Hollywood aboard Coastal Marine Diving Supplies’ boat Blue Runner.
The hunt got off to a quick start, with Contreras quickly snaring a lone lobster backed into a coral cave. But the creature turned out to be too small, and he released it. Contreras and his dive buddy didn’t spot any crustaceans for a while, but they suddenly came upon a dozen pairs of antennae protruding from the dark reaches of a giant brain coral head about 25 feet deep.
Contreras had great success snaring a half dozen of the clustered crustaceans using the long-shaft TAC Device. Unfortunately, most of them measured short and had to be released. After several more rounds of catch-and-release, he and a companion managed six bugs between them. Not a limit, but definitely enough for dinner.
Making and marketing the TAC Device is not Contreras’ sole occupation. He has run his own window-tinting company for nearly 30 years and works on his dive invention in his spare time with the help of fiancée Shari Vynogranko. He estimates they have sold about 250 units so far, and are working to put the new gear into more dive shops around the state.
“I’m just getting out there. I’m not known,” Contreras said.
But with lobster season running through March 31, there’s a good chance word will spread.