Key West’s Lobster Mini Season 2014

Key West Lobster
Key West’s Capt. Steven Lamp of Dream Catcher Charters with their Mini-Season Catch

Lobster mini season, also called spiny lobster sport season, always falls on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. So this year’s mini-season begins at 12:01 a.m. on July 30th and ends at 12:00 midnight the 31st. During this two day lobster bonanza, each properly licensed snorkeler and diver is allowed to take up to six legal sized lobsters per day in Monroe County; the rest of Florida is able to keep up to twelve lobsters per day.

This event brings about 25,000 visitors to the Florida Keys, so marinas and hotels are filled to capacity. Coming down on the spur of the moment is not a good idea during this week as you may end up sleeping in your car!

While mini season allows for lobster lovers to enjoy being on the water catching a few of these delicious crustaceans before the opening of the regular season which starts on August 6th, everyone should remain mindful of the rules and be safe on the water. There will be about twice as many FWC officers patrolling on and off the water during mini season as usual and will include undercover agents as well as police dogs trained to sniff out lobsters. That may seem an excessive use of law enforcement and maybe even be funny to some folks, but it is a stark reminder that following the imposed rules are extremely important. It also helps our local lobster population from being completely decimated in two days, as people seem to go crazy over these crustaceans.

There are many rules to follow, and I am notating some below from the FWC for your use, but please, please, please contact the FWC with any questions about regulations for mini season. If you get caught breaking the law, knowingly or unknowingly,  you will not pass go, you will not collect $200. You will go directly to jail! This can be a really fun time on the water, but that fun can quickly go south if you are not careful or if you do not follow the regulations. Stay safe and legal and keep the good times going.

How to Measure a Florida Spiny Lobster
How to measure a Florida Spiny Lobster for Mini season

Possession: Lobster must be of legal size before they are in possession. NOTE: You may not have lobster in your possession in Everglades National Park.

Bag Limits: The Federal bag limit cannot be combined with the State bag limit. Six (6) per recreational harvester per day. The two-day total of twelve lobster per recreational harvester in Monroe County, adjacent Federal waters, and Biscayne National Park can only be possessed when transporting your catch by car on, or after, the second day.

Egg-bearing (berried) lobster regardless of species must be released unharmed. Stripping egg-bearing females of eggs, andpossession of spiny or ridged slipper lobster tails from which eggs have been removed is prohibited. Eggs are an orange, yellow, brown, or red mass found covering the underside of the lobster’s tail.

Coral is protected from damage and removal in State and Federal waters. Do NOT touch, hold on to, stand on, break or otherwise harm coral. It is a fragile living animal.

Gear: Harvesting or attempting to harvest spiny lobster using any device that will or could puncture, penetrate, or crush the exoskeleton (shell) or the flesh of the lobster, and the use of such devices is prohibited.

“Bully-netting” is defined as using a circular frame attached at a right angle to the end of a pole and supporting a conical bag of webbing. Possession of bully nets is prohibited in Everglades National Park.

“Hoop-netting” is defined as using a frame, circular or otherwise,supporting a shallow bag of webbing and suspended by a line and bridles. Possession of hoop nets is prohibited in Everglades National Park.

“Artificial Habitat” is material (e.g. wood, metal, concrete, plastic) that has been placed to provide cover and habitat for spiny lobster. It does not include fishing gear allowed by FWC, legally permitted structures or artificial reefs permitted by Florida-DEP or Army Corps (e.g. Duane, Spiegel Grove, Bibb, Eagle, Thunderbolt, Vandenberg).

License Requirements: Recreational harvesters are required topossess a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License with a currentcrawfish permit. Consult your license agent for exemptions.

Spanish and slipper lobster are closed year round to harvest in Key Largo and Looe Key Existing Management Areas, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, Florida Keys National MarineSanctuary Ecological Reserves, Sanctuary Preservation Areas andSpecial-use Research Only Areas. During the Regular Season, they are closed to harvest in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State ParkLobster Exclusion Zones and from or within coral formations (patchreefs) within the Park.

Commercial Lobster Traps: It is a felony to molest, damage, or takelobster from traps in State or Federal waters.

Diving at night for lobster is NOT permitted in Monroe County and adjacent Federal waters. Bully-netting and hoop-netting is permitted at night. “Night” is 1 hour after official sunset to 1 hour before official sunrise.

Dive Flag: All divers and snorkelers in the water are required toprominently display a diver down flag. Slow to idle speed within 100 yards of a dive flag. Dive flags must be at least 20″ x 24″ in size and a stiffener is required to keep the flag unfurled. It must be displayed at the highest point of the vessel and visible from all directions. Flags must not be displayed when divers / snorkelers are out of the water. Dive flags carried on floats must be at least 12″ x 12″.

Measuring Lobster: Each harvester must have a gauge made for measuring lobster while harvesting in the water. All lobster must be measured in the water and released unharmed if undersized. Lobster carapace must be greater than three (3) inches. All recreationally harvested lobster must remain in whole condition while at sea. Tails can only be separated on land. When the tail is separated from the body, it must be greater than 5-1/2 inches.

 Prohibited Areas: 

  • Artificial Habitats in State Waters
  • Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary
  • City of Layton: No person shall remove by any means, whether by trap, diving, spearing or otherwise, any Florida spiny lobster from any waters within the city limits.
  • Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: The following no-take areas are marked by 30″ diameter round yellow boundary buoys:
    • Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs)
    • Special-use Research Only Areas
    • Ecological Reserves 
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: All of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is closed during the two-day Sport Season to the harvest of spiny lobster.
  • Local Jurisdictions:  Local jurisdictions have specific restrictions on snorkeling and diving. Jurisdictions have extended the rule beyond the Lobster Sport Season. In the local jurisdictions, there is no diving or snorkeling within:
    • 300 feet of improved residential or commercial
    • shoreline, any manmade or private canal, any public or private marina
    • Dive means to wholly or partially submerge one’s body while equipped with a mask or goggles, whether or not any type of underwater breathing apparatus is used.
    • City of Marathon (Ch. 36 Art. VII) and City of Key Colony Beach (Ch. 5 Art. I). Rule applies during the 4 days preceding Sport Season and continues until 10 days have elapsed after the opening of Regular Season.
    • Islamorada, Village of Islands (Ch. 66 Art. I). Rule applies during the 3 days preceding Sport Season, the entirety of Sport Season and the first 5 days of Regular Season.
    • City of Layton and Unincorporated Monroe County (Ch. 26 Art. IV). Rule applies during the 3 days preceding Sport Season, the entirety of Sport Season and the first 5 days of Regular Season. Exception: diving and snorkeling is allowed in front of his or her property to the center line of the canal or 100 feet of open water.

Other Prohibitions:

  • Unless exempt, a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit are required to harvest spiny lobster.
  • Lobster must be landed in whole condition. Separating the tail from the body is prohibited in state waters.
  • The harvest or possession of eggbearing spiny lobster, or any other eggbearing species of lobster belonging to the families Palinuridae (spiny lobsters), Scyllaridae (slipper lobsters) or Synaxidae (furry lobsters) is prohibited.
  • No person shall harvest or attempt to harvest spiny lobster using any device which will or could puncture, penetrate or crush the exoskeleton (shell) or the flesh of the lobster.
  • Recreational trapping prohibited.
  • Regardless of what species you are fishing for, bag limits are only for properly licensed individuals and those people exempt from license requirements who are actively harvesting. People harvesting may not exceed their individual bag limit and take someone else’s bag limit. That is, people (including children) who are not actively harvesting or are not properly licensed (if a license is required) may NOT be counted for purposes of bag limits.
Charter Option

Want to go lobstering but don’t want the hassle of having to deal with all of the regulations or bringing down your own boat? No worries! This year Dream Catcher Charters is offering lobstering charters. Call and make your reservation soon as availability is limited!

Local Information

Once you catch your limit of lobsters you are going to have to prepare them, so check out some of our recipes. We have some great ideas for ways to prepare Florida Spiny lobster. You can also  take your freshly caught lobsters to a local restaurant to be prepared for you; check out my restaurant reviews and feel free to call us at 1-888-362-3474  if you are looking for last minute accommodations; you never know, you may get lucky!

Coming up, regular lobster season opens on August 6th, shortly followed by another Key West celebration, Lobsterfest. If you love spiny lobster this event is a must! Local restaurants set up booths all down Duval Street and serve this crustacean in a variety of different ways. There will also be music and lots of fun to entertain everyone, young or old. Even Indiana Bones loves going downtown for Lobsterfest!

To see what else is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Island Genn
Key West Concierge

About the author: Island Genn

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