A 22-year-old Lighthouse Point man diving for lobster in 40 feet of water off Pompano Beach became the first South Florida fatality of the 2014 statewide lobster miniseason Wednesday.
Joseph Grosso, a football player who recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly returned to a dive charterboat after lobster hunting and then decided to go back into the water alone. Grosso’s stepfather, Phil Franchina, told WSVN-Fox7 that he ran out of air.
Grosso was found unconscious on the surface about 8:30 a.m. A Sea Tow boat took him to shore at Hillsboro Inlet and paramedics rushed him to Broward Health North, where he was pronounced dead.
With miniseason ending at midnight Thursday, public safety officials are warning divers to use caution and common sense when chasing bugs.
“No lobster is worth your life,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said at the start of the two-day crustacean frenzy.
Off Islamorada on Wednesday, a lobster-hunting boat with two men and two women on board capsized about a mile offshore. A good Samaritan notified the Coast Guard, which dispatched a rescue boat and brought the four back to shore uninjured.
Meanwhile, catch reports from up and down the South Florida coast were mixed, with some divers catching their limit of 12 lobster per person and others just bagging a few. Weather conditions were favorable for most of the day until late-afternoon thundershowers sent stragglers scurrying to port.
Aboard the Dania Beach dive charterboat Blue Runner, seven scuba divers totaled 33 bugs, including an odd-looking but tasty slipper lobster, in about 2 ½ hours of diving on the reef off Fort Lauderdale.
“Hey, that’s better than last year,” captain Brian Kuendel said.
Farther south, just off Cape Florida State Park, Osmany Perez of Miami and two companions bagged six while scuba diving from their 27-foot boat just off the jetty. One of Perez’s dive buddies was first-timer Maria Fernanda Aub, 27. He gave her a crash course in the sport.
“It was awesome. I liked it,” Aub said. “He told me they hide in the rocks and swim backward. You poke them, and then — PSSSH — I got one. You have to be fast, but you have to be smooth.”
Perez said he planned to relocate to deeper water to get a few more, then return home for a feast.
“It’s fun to catch, and when you get back, you cook together and brag to all your friends how much lobster you caught. It’s kind of a competition,” he said.
Not far away, three men free-diving from a small Key Largo skiff managed 10 lobster but wanted more.
“It’s been tough,” said Jesus Comendeiro. “A lot of current, and the visibility is crap.”
Added his dive buddy Jorge Tapanes: “We were expecting a lot more here in the rocks. Who knows? Somebody could have hit this spot late last night.”
Out in about 20 feet of water, brothers Andres and Juan Rivas and their buddy Jose Ortega brought up eight lobster in a few hours of free-diving from their 17-foot Boston Whaler.
Juan Rivas said he enjoys the “treasure-hunting” aspect of miniseason and gives a lot of his bounty away.
“I don’t even like eating them that much,” he said. “I do it more for other people — family, friends, neighbors that are always asking.”
Wednesday’s opener kept law enforcement officers busy writing tickets for resource violations, according to Pino.
Pino stopped a group of divers who had just harvested a pile of bugs from the Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary, which is always off-limits. He made them return their entire catch to the bay.
Another officer stopped a diver at Haulover Park with 70 lobster on board. According to Pino, it was the diver’s third trip of the day — a big no-no that can draw fines, jail time and possible seizure of the vessel.
For would-be lobster catchers who couldn’t skip work this week, they’ll get another shot when the regular harvest season opens Aug. 6, and runs through March 31.