The quest begins again.
For thousands of divers (and dinner seekers) around South Florida, it’s game on as they hit the water for lobster mini-season, which begins Wednesday morning.
But before we get to the succulent meal with drawn butter, know this: If you’re not careful out there, you could end up hurt, arrested —or dead.
Law enforcers want you safe during the hunt.
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“There’s always an added sense of danger when people are diving for lobsters at midnight,” said Bobby Dube, a spokesman for the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the Keys.
A 60-year-old man, William Simko, died last year while diving for lobster along the Gulf side of Cudjoe Key. Also, several arrests were made for surpassing the lobster limit, having no measuring device and fishing undersized lobsters.
Dube said major incidents are on the decline.
“I’d like to think all our efforts are curtailing the tragedies,” he said.
The two-day lobster mini-season starts at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and ends at midnight on Thursday. Regular lobster season opens Aug. 6.
Here’s what you need to know:
▪ In Monroe County and Biscayne National Park, the bag limit is six lobster per person per day during the two-day mini season and regular season. Dube said the limit is 12 everywhere else.
▪ Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times, according to FWC officials.
▪ Measurement of a lobster’s carapace — which must be larger than three inches — must be done in the water.
▪ Catching egg-bearing lobsters is against the law.
▪ Diving for lobsters when the sun goes down is also not allowed, but people can still use a bully net to catch them. Bully netters use a basket net at the end of a pole and a light to spot and catch lobster at night.
▪ Lobsters caught by any method must be brought back to shore whole, so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends bringing a cooler large enough to fit several whole lobsters.
▪ Lobster cannot be speared.
If you wish to participate in lobster mini-season or the regular season, you need a recreational saltwater fishing license and a spiny lobster permit. Both are available at MyFWC.com/License, or you may purchase your license today at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
Stone crabs are legal to harvest from Oct. 15 to May 15.
“The weather is supposed to be nice this week,” Dube said. “We’re predicting a large influx of people coming to the Keys and Dade County as usual.”
Divers are encouraged to make sure they are in good health and check that their scuba-diving gear is in proper working order before they hit the waters this week.
An information booth to assist potential divers during lobster mini-season is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and will continue to be through Wednesday at Key Largo's Waldorf Plaza, mile marker 100 oceanside near the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will have staff on-hand that can demonstrate how to properly measure harvested lobsters and provide the latest lobster-catching rules and regulations, which can also be found online at myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster/ .
Lobster hunters are being reminded it is illegal to take spiny lobsters or fish in Ecological Reserves and Sanctuary Preservation Areas. It is also unlawful to move, remove, take, injure, touch, break, cut or possess coral or live rock.
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward said violators should expect a 10-day stay in county jail if they get caught and convicted.
“There will be no plea bargaining,” Ward said. “I’ve grown tired of the same offenses over and over and over again.”
Ward’s caution comes in the wake of the arrest of seven men from Alabama and Georgia who police say were caught with 320 lobsters on July 9 while vacationing in Marathon. They face hundreds of charges, including two felonies for having more than 100 undersized lobster; 586 misdemeanor counts for out-of-season lobster and wrung tails; and 14 misdemeanor counts for the lobster, stone crab, and reef fish “not in whole condition.”
“It’s just a continuous assault on our natural resources here in the Florida Keys and at some point it has to stop,” Ward said. “If this is what we’re going to need to do to stop it or reduce it considerably, we will.”
To report violations of sanctuary regulations and other fish, wildlife, boating and environmental laws, call 888-404-3922, option 7 or FWC Dispatch at 305-470-6863, option 7.
Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report. David Goodhue reports for flkeysnews,