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FLORIDA KEYS, July 16, 2019 – Florida’s two-day lobster mini-season arrives near the end of July, and those on the hunt for the savory crustaceans should know there are rules.
Those cited by law enforcement for violating the regulations can choose to fight the allegations in court – and if they lose, penalties for each violation can include up to 60 days in jail and fines up to $500.
The two-day season runs from 12:01 a.m. July 24 to 11:59 p.m. July 25.
In Monroe County, the harvest limit is six lobsters per person per day. A lobster’s carapace, or body, must be greater than three inches long for harvest; divers must have a measuring device with them in the water to measure each lobster.
A lobster’s tail cannot be separated (wrung) from the body while the harvester is in or on the water; lobsters must be brought back to land in whole condition. When the tail is separated from the body on land, it must be 5.5 inches or greater. Harvesting egg-bearing lobsters and spearing lobsters is not allowed.
“Ideally, people would not violate the rules, which are established to protect and maintain our sensitive marine environment,” State Attorney Dennis Ward said. “But if they do, in most cases, we will offer options to the offenders that are meant to both send them a message and to raise their awareness of the importance of preserving our resources.”
The State Attorney’s Office has developed baseline plea offers for those cited for violating the lobster regulations.
One could get 10 days in jail for one lobster over the limit, 10 days for one out-of-season lobster and 10 days for one speared lobster (in each case, it’s three days more for each illegal lobster over one). If the violation is for spearing a lobster combined with another violation, the jail time for the speared lobster is in addition to the jail time for the other violation.
If you have two undersized lobster, adjudication could be withheld. For a third undersized lobster, the offer is 10 days in jail and for each undersized lobster after that, it’s three more days.
Having a wrung (detached) tail on the water could be punishable by two days in jail (two days for each wrung tail up to 20 lobsters). If one has 20 to 24 wrung tails, it’s 60 days. Twenty-five or more wrung tails could mean 364 days in jail.
Taking an egg-bearing lobster, or stripping a lobster’s eggs from its body, could be five days in jail. Each additional egg-bearing lobster or lobster stripped of its eggs could be three days.
All offers include probation in addition to any jail time. In addition to the above penalties, recreational harvesters could have their Florida saltwater fishing license and lobster endorsement revoked for a year, and commercial harvesters could have their license suspended.
There could be additional penalties for taking lobster from protected areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The locations of those protected areas can be found at the marine sanctuary website. Also, unincorporated Monroe County and the municipalities of Key West, Marathon, Islamorada, Key Colony Beach and Layton have local rules prohibiting lobstering nearshore. The specifics for each area are on the marine sanctuary’s website.
The regular nearly-eight-month recreational and commercial lobster season starts August 6 and ends March 31.