12684854854?profile=RESIZE_710xScuba diver John Strunk shows off some of the big bugs that he caught during a previous lobster miniseason. Steve Waters/The Coastal Star

By Steve Waters

The most exciting time of the year for South Florida lobster lovers is the two-day miniseason, which is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. That’s when divers get their first chance at catching a delicious dinner since the regular lobster season closed on April 1.

The absence of commercial lobster traps and not being poked and prodded by divers armed with snares, tickle sticks and nets for nearly four months usually results in an abundance of bugs that are less wary than normal for what is officially known as the lobster sport season.

As if that isn’t enough of a reason to go diving for bugs, as they are known because of their insect-like appearance, when the miniseason begins at 12:01 a.m. July 24 and concludes at midnight July 25, the daily bag limit in Palm Beach and Broward counties is 12 lobsters per person. That’s double the limit during the regular season, which opens Aug. 6.

The miniseason is more restrictive in the Florida Keys, where the daily limit is six bugs and no diving is allowed at night. This is intended to reduce the number of divers who descend on the Keys, where spiny lobsters are typically more plentiful, especially in the shallow waters surrounding the island chain. Many lobster hunters catch them in 6 to 10 feet of water using only a mask, fins and snorkel.

This year, Florida residents get an extra day of miniseason. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last month that as part of a $57 million coral reef restoration and coastal protection initiative, the lobster miniseason will include July 14, exclusively for Florida residents.

“Christmas came early!” said Jim “Chiefy” Mathie of Deerfield Beach, author of Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster, a how-to book available at many local dive shops and online.

“Adding an additional day on a Sunday before the normal miniseason for Florida residents will be a real shot in the arm for the dive industry. Dive charters and shops were already seeing an increase in demand, which will be a great economic benefit.”

Getting in the water before July 14 is now a priority for many divers. The popularity of the miniseason makes safety a critical concern, primarily because many scuba divers have not been in the water since last year’s miniseason. Their diving skills might not be as sharp and their dive gear might not work properly. Cracked hoses that leak air and mask and fin straps that are on the verge of tearing can endanger a diver’s life.

Safety first
That’s why it’s a good idea to go diving before the miniseason. Getting reacquainted with being under the water is also an opportunity to scout for lobsters. If your equipment needs to be repaired or replaced, now is the time to do that rather than waiting until a few days before the miniseason. That’s when dive shops are packed with frantic divers hoping they can get their gear inspected and repaired in time for opening day.

One of the biggest miniseason hazards is divers who run out of air. In their excitement to catch their limit, some divers who have enough air in their tank to safely get them to the surface see a lobster and decide to go after it.

Using a snare or a tickle stick and a net to coax a bug out of its hiding place in a reef or from under a ledge can take a while. When divers focused on catching one more lobster suddenly realize that they have used all of their remaining air, they typically speed straight to the surface and don’t do a three-minute safety stop to prevent decompression sickness, also known as the bends.

And some divers panic and never make it to the surface.

Some boaters, in their rush to get to their lobster hot spots, drive too fast and too close to diver down flags. Boats must make an effort to stay at least 300 feet from dive flags on open waters and proceed at idle speed inside of that distance.

Safety-conscious divers fly a dive flag on their boat and have a dive flag on a float that they tow behind them. That not only makes it easier for the person driving the boat to keep track of the divers in the water, it also allows drivers of other boats to see that divers are in the water and to stay a safe distance away.

Visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster for lobster regulations.

Outdoors writer Steve Waters can be reached at steve33324@aol.com.

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