But you won’t need any bug spray, just some diving gear, a few special tools and, of course, melted butter!
We’re talking about Panulirus Argus Pandemonium better known as Spiny Lobster Mini-Season. This year’s sport season falls on July 26th and 27th. The 48-hour period was established some years ago to allow recreational users to catch lobsters prior to traps being deployed and commercial season beginning on August 6th. Divers call lobsters “bugs” because the crustaceans and insects come from the same phylum, Arthropoda. Shared traits include jointed appendages–legs, antennae and mouthparts–hence the bug reference. But let’s not think about that.
On to the important stuff. During the mini-season divers can take advantage of the 12 per person per day bag limit except in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park where the limit is 6. You will need a fishing license and lobster permit. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approximately 13,885 Treasure Coast divers have lobster permits.
Catching these critters isn’t exactly a straight forward deal. These southerners lack the claws of their northern kin so their main defense mechanism is speed. You’ll need some special equipment to grab them including a tickle stick to coax them toward your net. You’ll also need a measuring device with you always and you cannot bag or remove a lobster from the water without measuring first. The carapace (body not including tail) must be at least 3 inches. Measure it from just behind its eyes to the back center of the body shell where it meets the tail. Learn to identify egg bearing females which are a big no-no to harvest. They are said to be "berried" with brightly colored orange eggs carried under the tail. Leave them alone and don’t even think about removing the eggs. It’s illegal and, well it’s just wrong.
Spiny lobsters hang out in crevices of rocks and coral reefs, occasionally venturing out at night to seek prey. They feed on small, slow-moving mollusks and crustaceans which are typically covered in algae. The color of the algae differs with the depth of the water. Green alga is more common is shallow waters and therefore lobsters in shallow zones tend to be more of a brownish green. Red alga is more common in deeper water, giving those guys that “already cooked” reddish appearance.
Though more abundant in the Keys, the further north they are the bigger they tend to be due to reduced harvesting pressure. The Treasure Coast offers distinct advantages for divers including bigger lobsters hanging out closer to shore and significantly smaller crowds than the frenzied conditions that have become the norm in the Keys during the short sport season.
In St. Lucie's Pepper Park, there are several nearshore reefs located less than 100 yards off the beach in 20 feet or less water. The reefs of Wabasso Beach also offer a lot of action close to the beach. The Monster hole in the Sebastian Inlet State Park has also been known to hold big Lobsters. In Vero Beach Jaycee Beach Park also has shore accessible reefs.
If you’re planning to participate in this year’s harvest be sure to consider safety first. Dive with a buddy and stay within 300 feet of a properly displayed divers-down symbol. Visit myfwc.com to familiarize yourself with the complete set of regulations. Then go get some bugs and let us know what time to come for dinner. Happy Hunting!