Gulf Great for Lobstering

By: Terry Tomalin

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If you are getting ready for this week’s two day lobster mini season, look out for some monster bugs. The relatively warm weather this spring may have allowed the lobsters to grow more quickly.

More than 100,000 lobstermaniacs are expected to hunt for Florida's favorite crustacean on July 25 and 26. While the Florida Keys is by far the state’s most popular diving destination, you can catch lobsters in the Gulf of Mexico as well.

While the crustaceans tend to be scattered and more difficult to find, they tend to be larger than its South Florida counterparts, which average about -3/4 to 1 pound. Gulf divers have been known to pull in lobsters of 10 pounds or more.

But diving for lobster in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico can be challenging. Visibility can range from 80 feet on a good day to a few yards when the water is stirred up or full of algae. That's why local "bug hunting" is usually a game played by veteran divers. Novices will have better results under the tutelage of an instructor or experienced divemaster.

If you land a local lobster, you'll find that they don't taste any different than those caught in the Keys. The Caribbean spiny lobster ranges from North Carolina to Brazil. Divers call spiny lobsters "bugs" because these crustaceans and insects are both invertebrates and come from the same phylum, Arthropoda.

The common traits lobster and insects share are jointed appendages - legs, antennae and mouthparts. They also have a rigid external skeleton that molts or sheds as the creature grows. The Florida lobster looks a little like a crawfish. It doesn't have the large claws for hunting and defense like its cousin from Maine. The spiny lobster's main defense is its speed. With one flip of the tail, these critters can take off and leave a diver empty-handed.

If you do go this sport season, you may keep 12 lobsters per person per day, except in Monroe County (Florida Keys) and Biscayne National Park, where the bag limit is six. During this two-day season, the possession limit on the water is equal to the daily bag limit; off the water, it is equal to the daily bag limit on the first day and double the daily bag limit on the second day.
 
A legal spiny lobster must have a carapace of at least 3 inches long, and the lobster must be measured in the water. You must have a measuring device in your possession at all times. The best time to catch lobster in the Gulf of Mexico is at night, when the creatures are most active.

However, night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during the sport season. If you do head to The Keys, remember you can't hunt lobster in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season. Harvest is also prohibited during both the two-day sport season and regular season in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

You need both a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit. To learn more, click here.

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