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Lobster Mini-Season Is Always Controversial In The Keys, But 'This Year It Might Be A Blessing'

Spiny lobster is a South Florida favorite - and the state's most valuable seafood.
Richard Elzey/Flickr
Spiny lobster is a South Florida favorite - and the state's most valuable seafood.

As the Florida Keys look to reopen to tourists June 1, some on the island chain are already worried about one of the summer's biggest events — the recreational mini-season for spiny lobster.

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Set for July 29 and 30 this year, the event draws thousands of people to snorkel and dive for the tasty crustaceans before the regular season opens in August. And every year it sparks a debate among Keys locals.

"Frankly, it's the Calgary Stampede of the Keys," said Stuart Shaffer. He spoke to the Monroe County Commission Wednesday, requesting that the county send a letter to the state to stop mini-season.

Fisheries are regulated by the state; the county has no authority to cancel mini-season, or limit it to locals only.

FWC Officer John Martino checks lobster during mini-season in the Keys in 2016.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
FWC Officer John Martino checks lobster during mini-season in the Keys in 2016.

Every year, Shaffer said, Keys residents are concerned about the impact on the environment. But "this is a special year — we've got COVID-19 all around us," he said. "What we see every year during mini-season are too many people on each vessel."

People add passengers to their vessels to increase the number of lobster they can legally catch, which are limited to six per person, per day in the Keys and Biscayne National Park. In the rest of Florida, it's 12 per person, per day.

Commissioners were sympathetic to Shaffer's request, but said they didn't think canceling the mini-season would help — since eager lobster hunters would just descend on Aug. 6, when the regular season opens.

And that could lead to conflicts with the commercial lobster fishers, part of the reason mini-season was started in the first place.

"We really want to keep the commercial and the recreational groups apart if we can," said FWC Capt. David Dipre. "Having overlap, we have found in the past, would be disastrous. Too many bad things happening, too many commercial operators getting robbed, trap robbing going on. Too many conflicts between the groups."

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said lobster season is an opportunity to bring visitors back to the Keys after the prolonged shutdown.

"I really don't like mini-season but I don't think this is the year that we want to put a stop to it," she said.

"It is recreation. It is money coming into the county. It's letting the whole world know that we are open, and there are things to do down here besides drink and carouse," Murphy said. "This year, I think it might be a blessing."

The regular lobster season starts, as always, on Aug. 6.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.
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