'Never seen it like this.' Stormy search for lobster in the Keys
People from around the country have descended on the Florida the Keys for a chance to grab some Florida spiny lobster.
The crustacean isn't only craved locally, but also as far away as China.
The "bugs" can be found in other areas of the state, including Miami-Dade and Broward. But the Keys remain the most popular spot to search for spiny lobster during the annual two-day miniseason.
Here's what to know:
Weather a factor during lobster miniseason
Held on the final Wednesday and Thursday of every July, the Florida lobster miniseason is typically marked by seasonal hot and humid mid-summer temperatures under a blazing sun. But high winds, heavy rain and white caps on the bay and ocean greeted snorkelers and divers this year.
Mother nature seemed determined on making opening day as uncomfortable as possible. Thursday looked a little better, but with a strong chance of thunderstorms through the day, according to the National Weather Service.
"In 18 years, I've never seen it like this," said Monroe County Deputy Willie Guerra, a 30-year law enforcement officer, almost 20 of which have been spent on marine patrol in the Keys.
Although Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers enforce most conservation laws in the Keys, there's a good chance that if you've been cited or arrested in the island chain on a fisheries violation, it was Guerra's case.
He said stopping the poaching of the Keys' natural resources is a priority for him because wildlife is the root of livelihoods in the Keys.
"We have no factories. We have no warehouses. We have tourism and fishing," Guerra said. "It's our main resource in the Keys, and we take it very seriously."
Trouble on the water in Miami area
In Miami-Dade County, one man in his 60s drowned and a man in his 30s was hit by a boat, according to police spokesman Detective Argemis Colome.
Violations on the water in the Keys
Some of the most common violations Guerra said he sees are divers not having a measuring device with them in the water (lobsters must measure three inches at the carapace) and having a speargun or any other device that pierces the animals' shell.
But on Wednesday, not only were the numbers of boaters and divers on the water down significantly compared to years past, those who braved the weather—and there were still plenty of them—respected the rules, for the most part. Guerra wrote no citations nor made arrests, only issuing some verbal warnings.
And despite the limited visibility caused by the weather-whipped-up shallow waters, many anglers quickly caught their limit—six per person, per day in the Keys.
Getting the catch
Dennis Milian, who came down to the Keys with a group of friends from Miami, said he got as soon as daylight dawned, before the storm clouds and crowds gathered.
"Earlier was good, Milian said around 10 a.m. "That's we caught most of our lobsters."
Heynor Mejai, 20, traveled from Jupiter for a shot to catch his six, which he did in about 20 minutes, he said. Asked if he'd be back Thursday for round two, he responded, "I wish. I gotta work."
But others, like Humberto Pedroso III, 52, from Pinecrest, came up almost empty-handed.
"Over 30 years, this is probably the worst day I've had," said Pedroso, walking down the side of U.S. 1 on Long Key holding a mesh bag with two lobsters in it and a yellow hookah diving rig.
Lisa Dinh, 62, said miniseason didn't live up to the hype after she crossed the country with her husband and some friends to catch some spiny lobster.
"This is our first time. We're from California and we've heard about this event," she said drying off after exiting Florida Bay near Long Key with no lobsters. "Very disappointing."
Her husband, Chien Dinh, also 62, didn't let the goose egg and stormy conditions ruin his good time.
"The water's beautiful," he said. "I can't complain."
2023 Miami Herald.
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