At the end of every July the phenomenon called mini lobster season takes place. Swarms of lobster hunters flood the Florida Keys for a chance to get their share of this delicious spiny crustacean. The mini season dates are always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July and begins at 12:01 Wednesday morning and ends at 12:00 midnight on Thursday evening. The regular eight month lobster season soon follows and is always from August 6th through March 31th. Recreational harvesters are required to possess a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License with a current spiny lobster permit.
Known as the Florida Spiny Lobster or “Bugs” to the experienced hunters, they vary in color and have long antennae. Unlike their northern relatives, they have no claws, so the uses of the antennae are to scare off predators and to detect objects in their surroundings. The bugs live in shelves and crevasses in the coral reefs and use the structure as another form of protection during daylight hours. At night they venture out to feed on snails, clams, crabs and urchins and return to their shelter before sunrise.
Catching these crustaceans does require a bit of skill and knowledge. Tools for the outing would include a tickle stick, a net and a measuring device. Knowing the lobsters natural movements will assist in the process. Spiny Florida lobster move slowly forward but can propel themselves in reverse at a high speed when spooked.
Once you have located a lobster in its natural shelter, usually by seeing its long antennae, position yourself close to the bug without spooking him. Take your tickle stick (A long thin stick usually with a bright colored handle) and slide it behind the lobster and gently tap his tail until it begins to move forward. Position your net behind the lobster and once the lobster moves out of its shelter and the net is in position use the tickling stick and tap its head until it propels backward into the net. Secure the lobster in the net and take it to the surface for measurement. Make sure you use a good pair of gloves to prevent injury from their sharp spines.
The bag limits in the Florida Keys during the 2 day mini season and the Lobster regular season is 6 lobsters per person per day. Egg bearing females must be released unharmed. The size limit must be larger than a 3 inch carapace (See photo). To correctly measure a lobster, place a measuring tool between the eyes and measure to the end of the carapace. This must equal or be longer than 3 inches. Measurements must be done in the water and a measuring tool must be used and on hand at all times. See all the rules and regulations from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Please remember the two day mini season can get very crowded and hectic out on the water so please practice safe boating and be keenly aware of your surroundings. Now that you are informed, go get some bugs and enjoys you days out on the water hunting lobster.
Photos provided by Emily Spears, @kellie_strange