The competition for the lobsters started before dawn.
Remington Rogers and his friend Paul Thompson had been working a hole in Biscayne Bay around sunup Wednesday, looking for lobsters, when a diver from another boat jumped in and tried to make off with their haul.
“He pushed us out of the hole, which is unheard of,” Rogers said. “This guy wanted to steal lobster out of our hands.”
But the two outsmarted the would-be thief, he added.
“All I did was take the lobster and shove them into a piece of a wreck that nobody really knows is there,” Thompson said. “So I just shoved them into there, said ‘Let’s go, Remi,’ and waited for them to leave.”
The thief eventually gave up, they said, and they returned and successfully retrieved their lobster. “Got our first 10 there,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Rogers were among hundreds of boaters, divers, netters and and snorkelers who turned out along Florida’s more than 2,000 miles of coastline for the start of lobster miniseason, a two-day diving derby that kicked off in Wednesday’s wee hours and lasts until midnight Thursday night.
Every year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission opens up most state waters for recreational hunters seeking the shelled crustaceans for their dinner, albeit with several restrictions. Diving after sundown is prohibited, and boaters are only allowed to bag a certain number of lobsters — kept whole — for each day.
Even before Rogers and Thompson had netted their first catch, a Florida Keys fisherman had run afoul of those rules and been arrested.
Monroe County deputies received a tip that Nicolas Moreira was “making multiple trips to land with lobster from his boat” around 2:30 a.m. and discovered that he was stashing nearly three dozen lobster in a wire trap, far over the six per person limit in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park. They arrested him just 2 1/2 hours after the mini-season began, according to the Keynoter.
The reported catch also exceeded the 12 per person limit in place for lobster hunters everywhere else in the state. Lobster hunters are only allowed to keep the crustaceans that measure more than three inches from the eyes to the top of the tail, and egg-bearing lobsters are off limits entirely.
For two divers near the shore in No Name Harbor Wednesday morning, the fun of catching the lobsters was the point — not necessarily the haul they brought home.
Jason Kumpu of Plantation and Asiel Gonzalez of Hialeah first started diving in the area seven years ago, taking their kayaks out every year when the two-day lobster miniseason rolled around.
“People think I'm crazy,” Gonzalez said. “I love catching lobsters. Don't eat ‘'em. Just take them home to the wife.”
“You're 10 minutes from the city and you feel like you're in the Keys,” Kumpu added. “It gives you a rush.”
Though deaths and injuries have declined, lobster miniseason can be dangerous. In 2014, a Pompano Beach diver died while trying to harvest lobster, and last year, 60-year-old William Simko died while diving for lobster in Cudjoe Key.
On Wednesday, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office reported a male diver was taken to the hospital in the morning after he had trouble breathing. A 16-year-old girl was also taken to a hospital in the afternoon after one of her fingers severed while climbing off a boat. Another man was towed into Bahia Honda State Park after he was found not breathing in the water, though his condition was not known Wednesday afternoon.
But lobster miniseason, which started in 1975, remains wildly popular. One FWC officer, while taking a break for lunch at Boater's Grill at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, said local waters were already crowded at 3 a.m.
"I've never seen so many boats out there," said the officer, who asked not to be identified.
More than 500,000 people are licensed to harvest lobsters, according to the FWC, and officials said they expect more than a million lobsters to be caught before this year’s season ends Thursday night.
Thompson’s father, James, said he’d been lobster fishing for 52 years and never missed a miniseason. He even phoned in sick Wednesday so he could drive the boat with Rogers and his son from one spot to another.
“I wouldn’t be alive today,” he added, if he had tried to skip a miniseason.
Paul Thompson said lobster hunting had become a way of life for him.
“It’s the Miami lifestyle,” he said. “My whole childhood I was dragging in this bay.”
To which his father quickly added: “Dragging and bragging.”