Florida's spiny lobster season is set to begin August 6 and runs through March 31, eight months of bug-grabbing good times. For the most dedicated lobster snatchers out there, grabbing those spiny bugs is a seasonal affair, salty vets who have carefully mapped out honey-holes, marked down to the decimal on GPS over years of diving and searching. But for those who are relatively new to the craft of catching some of the tastiest treats from our salty shores, finding those elusive lobster, and their rocky dens can seem daunting. We here at Shore Life Florida want to help make this season a success with a brief how-to and check list so you can max out this coming Florida spiny lobster season.
Spiny lobster under a rock ledge
First things first, get your certification stamp. Just about any tackle and dive shop worth their salt can get you certified and ready to go (if all else fails, hit up WalMart, or register online here, they'll look you up by your drivers license if need be). And it is cheap, especially in comparison to getting pinched harvesting lobster illegally, which can cost up to $331 per infraction. What you need: a Saltwater Fishing License ($17) and the Lobster Stamp ($5), which are good for a year.
Know what's a keeper and your limit. During the two day Sport Season (the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, this year falling on July 25-26), the limit doubles to 12 lobsters per stamp per day (six per person, per day for those heading to Monroe County and Biscayne National Park). These limits follow fisherman on land during mini-season, so be wary if you had plans of reaching your limit and heading back out for another dive, FWC will nail you as you try to leave the marina or boat ramp, and the fine won't be pretty. During the regular season (August 6 through March 31), limits return to six per person, per day.
Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Lobstermen also must check for eggs. It is illegal to collect egg-bearing lobster, and quite frankly, why would you want to, this directly effects the future of the species (no eggs equals no 2013/2014 season). Spiny lobsters carry eggs on the underside of their tail in orange clusters along the segments. They are easily detectable, an orange globular mess containing hundreds of miniscule eggs. If you snag a bug with eggs, let her go.
Egg-bearing female spiny lobster. Courtesy of FWC, Amy Buck
Keep your catch alive and intact. While on the boat, a diver is required to keep the lobster intact in the case of FWC coming aboard and checking your catch. They will fine you and take your catch if you harvest the tail before coming ashore.
It is also important to keep the lobster alive for as long as possible, effectively killing them when you remove the tail. If you are not planning on chowing down immediately after the catch, the tail needs to be chilled immediately after being detached to keep the meat from sticking to the shell. It is best to keep the lobster in a collection bag that can be dunked in the sea intermittently—or just left hanging from the boat while moored or anchored—to let the bugs breathe. They'll suffocate if left in a cooler with water, unless you have an aerator. If there is a live-well on the boat, no worries, toss'em in.
Removing the lobster's tail is by far the most grim and least appealing part of lobstering, but it is a task that must be done to enjoy the fruit of your labor. It is much more humane to ice the lobster before removing the tail; you are in a sense decapitating this thing, so be kind and put the bugs on ice.
Before removing the tail it is important to clean out the anal vein. To do so, remove an antennae, and take the fat end (around the middle) and carefully insert it into the anal opening on the underside base of the tail. Insert the antennae as far as it will go, then twist left and right. Remove the antenna. The anal vein will remain in the tail, but it has been loosened from the meat and will pull clean when removing the head.
Spiny lobster hiding out under a ledge.
To remove the tail, take a sharp knife and insert it where the tail meets the head. Keep the knife angled forward toward the head and slowly cut around. Once cut, grip the head in one hand, tail in the other, twist and pull. The anal vein will remain attached to the lobster's head and pull clean from the tail, ensuring the meat is not tainted. Et viola, lobster tail. Throw it on ice immediately and keep chilled until ready to cook.
To help make this season the best ever, here are a few articles to point you in the direction of becoming the ultimate lobsterman (or woman), maxing the limit dive after dive.