Robbing Lobster Traps
The Florida Keys commercial fishing industry supports thousands of families in Monroe County and the lobster fishery is one of the largest commercial fisheries in the Keys. Unfortunately, the industry is often the target of those who steal lobster from licensed fishermen’s traps, cutting into their earnings. Consider it equivalent to a burglar breaking into a store.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission licenses commercial lobstermen and requires a trap certificate for each trap. As of July 2018, there were 1,484 state-licensed commercial lobstermen in Florida and of those, 1,160 were in the Keys, according to the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association. There were 473,500 trap certificates statewide and of those, 350,000 were issued for traps fished in Monroe County and adjacent waters.
The commercial lobster season runs from August 6 each year through the end of the following March. Ninety percent of Florida’s annual commercial lobster harvest comes from Monroe County waters. A good average season harvest is 7.9 million pounds.
The unlawful/willful molestation of spiny lobster gear (traps, lines or buoys) is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine up to $5,000. Taking the contents of another’s trap is in this category and can include an additional charge of theft. The crime is committed by a commercial harvester, he or she could permanently lose all of his or her saltwater fishing privileges and be assessed an administrative penalty of up to $5,000.
Commercially harvesting lobster with a forged or without the proper saltwater products license with a spiny lobster endorsement is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine up to $5,000.
Recreational harvest of lobster using a lobster trap is prohibited. It is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine up to $500 and may include additional charges for violations regarding trap used.