Diving for dinner is underway as lobster mini-season opens

South Florida’s biggest undeclared summer holiday dawned Wednesday amid calm seas and a 30 percent chance of thundershowers — opening day of the annual two-day lobster mini-season. Thousands of snorkelers and scuba divers took to the ocean, Biscayne Bay, and even residential canals starting just after midnight, hoping to become heroes of the barbecue grill Wednesday evening.

Hunters have until midnight Thursday to catch a limit of bugs and will have to make that stash last until the regular harvest season opens Aug. 6 and continues through March 31.

The bag limit is 12 per person per day throughout the state — except in the Keys and Biscayne National Park, where the limit is six.

Law enforcement officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, and numerous local police agencies have posted a heavy presence on local waterways and at boat ramps and marinas, checking boaters’ safety equipment and ensuring they’re not abusing marine resources.

At least a half-dozen lobster divers were cited in the days leading up to Wednesday’s opener for jumping the gun in Miami-Dade and Monroe county waters, according to FWC spokesman Jorge Pino.

Pino urged divers who haven’t taken the plunge in recent years or those unfamiliar with local waters to stay home.

“There’s absolutely no lobster that’s worth your life,” Pino said. “If you find you can’t go down that extra foot to get that lobster, go to Winn-Dixie or Publix and purchase a lobster.”

Lobster hunters seemed to be having mixed success so far Wednesday.

Mike Russo, owner of Coastal Marine Diving Supply in Dania Beach, hosted six bug hunters on an dawn charter just south of Port Everglades aboard the Blue Runner. Arriving at the dive site, he counted 70 boats from the port south to Hollywood. His customers — five scuba divers and one breath-hold diver — managed just 16 lobsters in over an hour of combing the reef 12- 20 feet deep. The bag limit is 12 per person per day off Broward County. Several said they caught and released multiple shorts — bugs with a carapace not larger than three inches.

“I thought there was plenty of lobster. Sadly, they were short,” Russo said.

He hoped his mid-morning and early-afternoon charters would fare better.