Divers have to hunt a little harder for lobster in mini-season

Success rates varied widely among scuba divers and snorkelers in South Florida’s quiet, uneventful Wednesday opener of the annual statewide two-day lobster mini-season.

A random check of boats extending from Port Everglades south to the Rickenbacker Causeway in early afternoon showed some scoring only a handful of dinner entrees while a few achieved daily bag limits of 12 bugs per person. And there were no reports of diver deaths or serious injuries in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

“This seems quieter than the last couple of years,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Marc Ingellis. “It might be weather or the economy ... the financial situation we’re in. A lot of people are working, and they’re not coming out on this Wednesday or Thursday.”

Ingellis was surprised that he and FWC investigator Willie Almagro issued no tickets in over three hours patrolling Biscayne Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway — only a couple of warnings for minor violations.

“Everyone is complying this year,” Ingellis said. “It’s surprising. People take it serious enough. That’s a good thing.”

While divers appeared to be serious about following the law, they weren’t necessarily successful at catching dinner.

Scott Harris and his party of three began diving for lobster from a small skiff in the Intracoastal near Haulover Inlet around 6 a.m. By noon, they had harvested eight — far below their limit of 48.

“Not too good,” Harris said. “Usually, we’re done in two hours.”

About a hundred yards away, Willie Yuque, his wife and 6-year-old son Logan fared a bit better, catching 12 in a few hours of snorkeling. Yuque said they were working harder than usual to get a limit.

“In the past, it was ridiculous. We were catching them like nothing,” he said. “Last couple years, it’s been different.”

A bit farther south, in Fisherman’s Channel off Dodge Island, Peter Farinas, wife Cari and their party of seven aboard a 28-foot Contender used an assembly line approach to bag 20 bugs in less than an hour. Diving with scuba tanks in waters 30 feet deep, Farinas grabbed each lobster, handed it off to one of his partners to be measured and bagged, and continued searching.

“It’s a family tradition,” Cari Farinas said, admitting she played hooky from work Wednesday. “We make lobster enchiladas, lobster bisque. I can’t be at work knowing they’re all here.”

One of the most successful catchers observed Wednesday was Mike Powers of Fort Lauderdale, a commercial lobster diver taking a busman’s holiday aboard his 22-foot skiff with four recreational diver friends. At mid-afternoon, the party had scored 46 using scuba gear in waters 6 to 14 feet deep north of the Rickenbacker Causeway. Powers vowed to keep diving until his crew had a limit of 60.

“A little slower this year,” he said. “We’re usually done by 10 o’clock. Most of ‘em are pretty nice this year.”

The fleet of dive boats in the area seemed to dwindle in mid-afternoon as the calm winds of morning grew gustier. The forecast for Thursday’s mini-season finale calls for southwest winds of 6 to 11 knots and a slight chance of afternoon thundershowers.

Mini-season closes at midnight Thursday, with no more lobster harvest until the regular season for both divers and commercial trappers opens Aug. 6 through March 31.