Harvest numbers of spiny lobster apparently dipped this year but a second straight solid season coupled with record-high wholesale prices made it a success for the Florida Keys commercial fleet.
"We've been blessed with two very good seasons," said Conch Key fisherman Gary Nichols. "It's been fantastic. The volume was lower than last season but that was a banner year."
The six-month lobster season that started last Aug. 6 ends Tuesday.
Final lobster harvest numbers won't be available for months but projections suggest a final commercial harvest for the 2014-15 season of about 4.4 million pounds, said Tom Matthews, a researcher at the Marathon office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Typically, a legal-size lobster weighs 1 pound.
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"Last year was 6.2 million pounds on the commercial side," Matthews said, "but that was best season in 10 years."
With a continued strong market for live lobster from Asian countries, the per-pound price for spiny lobster may hit $9.92, Matthews said. That's up from $8.65 per pound last season and more than double the price paid a decade ago.
"Prices continue to be at unprecedented levels due to the Asian demand for live product," Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, said Friday.
"We lost of a lot of lobster fishermen from the industry during the recession," Matthews said.
"While this would be considered on the low side of harvests over a 20-year period," he said, "there are fewer fishermen out there looking for them."
Prices paid to fishermen at the dock may come in at around $40 million this year.
"It's been a steady season," said Key Largo fisherman Walter Rentz, repairing his 2,200 traps to prepare for the new season that opens in August. Rentz pulled his traps weeks ago to make sure they were out of the water before March 31.
"We didn't have any tropical storms that destroy gear, and we saw less of the lobster virus," Kelly said. "It looks like there's a robust crop of undersized lobster out there, so that's an excellent sign for next year."