Diving and snorkeling for lobster during lobster season in Key West is a great time for the whole family. However, it is very important to make sure to understand the regulations, or you could be subject to arrest. Also keep in mind that you must purchase a fishing license with a lobster stamp to be able to lobster in Florida Keys waters.
Lobster season starts with the “Sportsman’s Holiday,” in which only recreational (and not commercial) lobstering is permitted. This is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July. The regular lobster season then runs from August 6th, through March 31st.
The Sportsman’s Holiday brings thousands of visitors down to the Florida Keys for that last Wednesday and Thursday of July. While it is a great event, every year people find themselves subject to arrest for not following the regulations associated with diving or snorkeling for lobster. Usually this is simply an innocent mistake. Nevertheless, wildlife laws in Florida are strict liability laws, which mean that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. As a result, if you do not follow the laws to the letter when you are collecting your lobster, you very well could find yourself receiving a notice to appear in Court for a violation of Florida’s wildlife regulations. This is a written arrest for a criminal misdemeanor charge. It is not simply a matter of paying a ticket.
YOU CAN BE CRIMINALLY PROSECUTED FOR FAILING TO FOLLOW REGULATIONS
The most common way people find themselves in trouble with Florida Fish and Wildlife Officers (FWC) is that they are not measuring the lobster correctly. The “Carapace” must be 3 inches are larger. The carapace is the part of the lobster that is the hard shell body above the tail. In order to go lobstering, you will have to have a measuring device. That measuring device is a common product at Florida Keys marine supply stores. This device has a three inch gap cut out of it. You use this gap to measure the carapace.
MEASURING THE LOBSTER
To measure the carapace, take the edge in the gap of your measuring device and place it outside of the little notch between the lobster’s eyes. The edge of the opposite gap should then be placed down along the lobster’s body. For it to be a legal lobster, that opposite gap from the eyes should still be on the hard shell carapace. If the edge can go over the carapace (to where the tail begins) then the lobster is short. There are far more shorts out there than legal lobster. If you are not finding that to be the case, then you are most likely measuring the lobster incorrectly.
See the red arrows in this photograph for the measurement locations on the lobster’s body being referenced.
One final note about measuring the lobster- you must measure them in the water. FWC will not accept the explanation that you were putting them on the boat to be measured, with the intention of throwing back the shorts. They will issue a written arrest if there are shorts on your boat.
The other way we see folks getting into trouble during lobster season is when they are ignorant of the bag limits. Monroe County has separate and smaller bag limits than the rest of the State. You can only keep six (6) lobster per person per day that has a valid lobstering permit on their Florida fishing license. Keep in mind that each person with the license should theoretically be getting his or her own lobster. FWC will not want to hear that one person got all the lobster, but that you have enough licenses on the boat to cover it- that would be a violation of the law.
IF YOU ARE ISSUED A COURT NOTICE
If you are issued a court notice for a violation of Florida’s lobster laws, you have been issued a written arrest for a second-degree misdemeanor. You cannot simply pay a fine. If you do not have an attorney, you will have to appear in Court. If you hire the Key West Criminal Defense Attorneys at Robertson & Hunter, we can appear on your behalf. If this is the first fishing/wildlife violation that you have been issued, there is a good chance that we can resolve the case in a way that has no long-term implications for your criminal history.
Keep in mind that law enforcement in Monroe County takes fishing violations seriously. One undersized lobster can result in criminal charges, so please be careful.