Fishing: Lobster mini-season today, Thursday

Justin Moraine of Fort Myers with a Florida spiny lobster he snagged while diving. His big “bug” weighed in at nearly 10 pounds.


Justin Moraine of Fort Myers with a Florida spiny lobster he snagged while diving. His big “bug” weighed in at nearly 10 pounds.

Grab your tickle sticks and bully nets, things are about to get a little buggy in South Florida.

The recreational sport season for spiny lobster in Florida begins today as thousands of divers hit the waters from West Palm Beach to the Florida Keys take to the waters in hopes of filling their coolers with the tasty little creatures.

Typically held the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July, the mini-season is meant to give recreational divers a chance to hunt bugs before the commercial fishing season begins on Aug. 6. Divers outside of Monroe County, where night diving is prohibited, were able to hit the water after the clock struck midnight.

The annual season is one of the biggest events in the Florida Keys and a welcome boost for the South Florida businesses.

According to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, about 25,000 visitors came to the Keys specifically for the 2011 mini-season, generating $10 million in economic impact for local businesses.

"My guess is that we'll see the same for the 2012 season, perhaps a little more given some recovery in the economy and fuel prices that came down from the spring time period," Council spokesman Andy Newman said.

For those planning on taking part in this year's season, there are several regulations that should be followed since law enforcement will be out in force during the two-day period:

■ There is a six-lobster limit per diver in Monroe County, and a limit of 12 in other parts of the state.

■ All lobsters must have a 3-inch carapace (the 'head' section of the exoskeleton). All divers must carry a measuring tool with them while in the water.

■ No egg-bearing females can be taken.

■ With the exception of the island of Key West, no diving is allowed within 100 yards of the shore.

■ All divers are required to have a valid saltwater fishing license as well as a lobster stamp or permit.

■ Lobster harvest is prohibited at all times in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, John Pennekamp Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Divers taking part in this year's event should also adhere to strict safety guidelines in order to avoid becoming a statistic. There have been 22 deaths related to the mini-season in the past decade.

■ All vessels are required to visibly display a "diver down" flag whenever a diver is in the water. Divers must remain within 300 feet of the vessel.

■ Scuba gear should be well-maintained and current with all safety inspections. Tanks should be undergo a visual inspection every 12 months and hydrostatically tested every five years.

■ Be aware of tide schedules. Currents can be dangerous, especially on changing tides.

■ Divers should be in good physical condition and should not dive with sinus or inner ear infections.

"I would urge visitors to please know the regulations and to be safe both on and under the water," Newman added.

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