Just after midnight Wednesday, thousands will hit the water with one thing on their minds: Lobster.
South Florida law-enforcement officials hope divers safely chase down their tasty prize.
Florida’s two-day lobster miniseason kicks off early Wednesday morning (12:01 a.m.) and lasts until late Thursday (11:59 p.m.).
The small window leads to a mad dash for bugs. Sometimes safety plans are forgotten.
Unfortunately, fatalities have been part of the miniseason over the years. Last July, a 22-year-old died in 40 feet of water off Pompano Beach.
Most of the diving deaths could have been prevented with a little common sense and a closer look at equipment.
“Know your limits when you are on the water,” U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Mike Cortese said. “A lobster isn’t worth your life.”
Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, warns recreational divers who aren’t in good physical health or just haven’t been diving in a long time should sit miniseason out.
“Run into Publix or Winn-Dixie and just buy the lobster,” Pino said. “Don’t kill yourself going after that bug. We see this every year. People lose their common sense chasing that elusive lobster.”
Cortese and Miami-Dade fire spokeswoman Michelle Fayed stressed boaters should alert others to their dive plan — where they are headed, how long they will be out — and then stick to it.
If divers don’t return in a reasonable time, authorities — led by the coast guard, numerous South Florida police agencies and the FWC — can begin a search.
“We will start looking right away,” Cortese said. “But we can’t look if we don’t know you’re missing.”
Boaters are also responsible for slowing down to idle speed when approaching a diver-down flag. To prevent being struck, divers are encouraged to pop up slowly and make sure they do a full turn to make sure there isn’t a boat approaching.
“Every year we have someone run over by a boat or have a close call because people aren’t paying attention to a dive flag,” Pino said.
“Go very slow around dive flags. We don’t want to have to respond to someone getting mangled as a result of someone not paying attention.”
There are also plenty of rules regarding the harvesting of lobster and there will be no lack of law-enforcement officers patrolling the waters.
Licensed hunters (the FWC requires a recreational saltwater license and $5 lobster permit) are allowed 12 lobsters per day in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and six per day in Monroe as well as Biscayne National Park.
The lobster’s carapace has to be measured in the water and exceed three inches. Those smaller than that aren’t regulation and must be left in the water.
Egg-bearing female lobsters also must be left behind.
“We want to protect those lobsters for future generations,” Pino said. “I want my son and my daughter to enjoy a nice lobster in the future, and if we don’t protect Florida’s natural resources, that won’t happen.”
Undercover officers will be watching for those going on multiple trips. Other officers will be dedicated to looking for those operating boats while impaired.
“We know people will grab their limit, bring it in, then head out and try it again,” Pino said. “We want people to obey the rules. There’s plenty of lobsters for everyone. Don’t be greedy. Take the lobster you’re entitled to.”
This miniseason, divers who snare at least 10 lionfish — and can prove it — are allowed an extra lobster each day.
“The FWC is chasing evasive species on all fronts,” Pino said. “Not only do we have pythons in the Everglades, but lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean. … Lionfish are the enemy of the sea right now in Miami-Dade County. They will destroy our reefs if we’re not proactive. We’re encouraging the recreational diver in trying to help us eradicate them.”