Florida’s two-day lobster mini-season starts at 12:01 a.m. the last Wednesday of July and ends at 11:59 p.m. the last Thursday of July, each year, and the Florida Keys are inundated with thousands of people looking to score their share of the tasty crustaceans before Florida’s eight-month regular recreational and commercial season starts August 6th.
But if you’re thinking of violating any of the rules regulating the harvest of lobster, authorities have a message: If you get caught, you will face consequences.
“The Monroe County State Attorney's Office is committed to preserving all of the Florida Keys’ natural resources,” State Attorney Dennis Ward said. “During lobster mini-season, law enforcement officers will be patrolling our waters, bridges and parks to ensure that laws pertaining to lobster are enforced. Be aware that there is a jail component in these laws, and that violators are sometimes sentenced to a period of jail for these violations.”
For both mini-season and the regular recreational season in Monroe County, the following applies:
Diving for lobster after sunset and before sunrise is not allowed but bullynetting is. Bullynetting is using a long-handled net and a light to see lobster to bring them up from the bottom. Spearing lobster is not allowed.
The harvest limit in Monroe County is six lobster per person per day.
To harvest lobster, one must possess a recreational saltwater fishing license with a lobster endorsement. Go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website for permits.
Harvesting egg-bearing female lobsters is not allowed.
A lobster’s carapace, or shell, must be at least three inches long for harvest; divers must have a measuring device with them to measure each lobster they pull from the water.
A lobster’s tail cannot be separated (wrung) from the body while the harvester is on the water; lobsters must be brought back to land in whole condition. When the tail is separated from the body on land, it must be greater than 5.5 inches.
The possible penalty for possession of each undersized lobster is up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both. The following violations are separate offenses, which may be charged additionally, each carrying a possible penalty of up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both:
- Harvesting an egg-bearing lobster
- Harvesting lobster with a spear
- Possessing lobster in excess of the bag limit
- Moreover, a recreational harvester may not possess more than his or her bag limit in the water (i.e., one person holding a catch bag in the water containing more than six lobsters for more than one harvester). Lastly, people not actively engaged in the harvest of lobster or who are not properly licensed may not be counted for bag-limit purposes.
- Possession of wrung lobster tail(s) on the water
There could be additional penalties for taking lobster in protected areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The locations of those protected areas can be found at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary website.
Additionally, unincorporated Monroe County and the municipalities of Key West, Marathon, Islamorada, Key Colony Beach and Layton have local rules prohibiting lobstering nearshore. The specifics for each area are on the marine sanctuary’s website.
Lobstering is also prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park and the Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary (for the regular recreational season only, lobstering is allowed in Pennekamp except for the park’s exclusion zones, which can be found on the marine sanctuary’s website).