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On Lobster patrol in the Florida Keys

(DiverWire) “We saw nine of’em in 15 minutes! Six were of size, and two were monsters,” United States Coast Guard Master Chief Charles Lindsey of the Marathon station declared.

Lindsey is not only the man in charge, but also a technical diver with hundreds of deepwater wreck dives marked in his log book from Alaska to Puerto Rico. We left the Marathon Coast Guard Station this week on his private boat with BM2 Charlie Havlik to check out the crustacean crop, and more importantly, to review the rules and regulations.

Next weekend is “mini-lobster season” in Florida. In advance of this annual event, DiverWire contributor Josie Koler went out on patrol with local officials to get ready for the wave of divers sure to hit the Keys.

The Coast Guard teams up with the Florida Wildlife Commission to stretch their resources, cover more water and to provide state and federal law enforcement. Coast Guard officials are on the FWC boats and vice versa.

“Our guys will not be out hunting lobster during mini-season. All of our men and women will be working every hour of every day in the Bay and on the reef covering the waters from Flamingo to Key West,” Lindsey said.

First, we cruised to his private, undisclosed spot (aka The Lindsey Honey Hole) in the Bay to check the crustacean crop. Visibility was poor, below 10’, so we headed to Delta Shoal the site of a slave shipwreck, a half mile east of Sombrero Reef Lighthouse.

There isn’t much left except wreckage for the bugs to bed down in!

We sunk to 20’ and started inspecting the bottom dwellers. As you can see, the Spiny Tails have matured to Lobster Monster size!

Lindsey showed us and told us how to score Spiny Tail, “There are two preferred methods by using a tickle stick and a net or a snaring device. Of course, you can use your bare hands. During mini-season state regulations don’t allow you to dive near beaches, canals, or break waters.”

When you bring your bug back to the boat, it better have a carapace which measures three inches or longer. Offenders are cited for violating any one of three major rules. They wring the tails at sea, bring back bugs which are too small, or sneak back to shore and then return for more! This is referred to as “double-tripping.”

FWC Lieutenant David Dipre explains, “We can take a look at the situation and determine whether there is negligence or intent. Negligence results in a citation and you have to come back and see a judge. Intent results in handcuffs and jail.”

In other words, you will be hauled of the water and spending the night in the slammer in your swimsuit.

“We can take you right to jail by boat,” Dipre affirmed.

Enforcing boating safety and search and rescue is one of the Coast Guard’s specialties. They have federal authority on the water. The FWC has state authority and will be enforcing the regulations for recreational harvest.

“You put the two together and you come up with a good team,” Dipre outlined. “It also increases our opportunity to stop boats.”

They’ll be checking for flares, lifejackets, boat registration, number of lobsters (if any) and lobster licenses. The number of people on your boat better match up with the number of lobsters, lobster licenses and lifejackets.

“This is the number one violation,” expressed Lindsey. “I cannot stress how important this is especially if you have children. They usually aren’t the strongest swimmers, and we often see a couple of buddies and a couple families join the boat and the owner doesn’t think about having enough life jackets.”

Also note the other lobsterers’ skill levels. You can spot anxiety when buddies can’t put their gear together. Zipping up into a wetsuit on a hot dry boat can create heat exhaustion and stress, especially when combined with anxiety. Check your mask and fins straps, too.

If they break, your bug hunt is a bust.

Remember, you can always buy your Spiny Tail from Key Largo Fisheries, Keys Fisheries, Fishbusterz, or any other fish house in the Florida Keys. There will be 300 FWC and Coast Guard boats watching over the crop. Whatever happens here, effects the entire Caribbean.

“That’s why we put limits on this,” said Dipre. “The commercial value is very high, and before you go hunting for lobster in the Florida Keys we expect you to know the rules. We expect you to know how to measure them, we expect you to have the proper gear with you, we expect you to have the proper licensing.  If you don’t and come down here for this one special season there’s a very, very good chance you end up walking away with a citation which will cost you.”

To learn more visit where Josie has supplied the links to all of the government websites you need for a successful 2011 mini-season. The entire pre-lobster hunt pics are on our The Weekly Newspapers Facebook page.

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