Industry and Government Cooperation Creates a Sustainable Lobster Fishery
by Douglas Gregory
University of Florida/Monroe County Extension Service
The two-day lobster sport season is over and the regular season begins this week. The two-day July sport season and the month of August is the primary time of year for lobster sport diving harvest.
Divers targeting the Atlantic offshore reef areas should be on the lookout for egg-bearing lobsters. Here in the Keys, the egg-bearing season begins in April and lasts through August. The majority of reproduction occurs along the offshore reef tract and the egg-bearing females tend to be alone in a hole/den or with just one male, so divers should look at any solitary lobsters they find to determine if it is an egg-bearer before they try to net or snare it. Once you tickle a lobster out of its hole it is relatively easy to see if an egg mass is attached to the underside of the tail. If you do catch a female with eggs simply release her back into the same hole you caught her in.
The commercial trap season will begin on Tuesday, August, 1, the first day fishermen set out their trap lines. Expect to see a number of local restaurants capitalize on opening season this week once the commercial harvest starts on Sunday, August, 6.
Preliminary reports from observations throughout the summer indicates it looks like we will have another good season of harvest. Last year was the most productive year to date with close to 8 million pounds of lobsters landed by the commercial fishery.
The recent increases in productivity of the Florida Keys lobster population can be attributed to a number of factors that may have increased recruitment to our fishery. In the last 25 years the Everglades, Biscayne Bay, and Dry Tortugas National Parks have prohibited all lobster harvest and have provided large lobster reserves in both juvenile and adult habitats. The juvenile protection has reduced injury rates allowing lobsters to grow more quickly and the spawning of larger females increased dramatically in Dry Tortugas after recreational harvest was prohibited in the 1970's.
In the late 1980's the commercial fishery adopted live wells to hold undersize lobsters that were used as attractants in traps and increased enforcement substantially reduced harvest and sale of the smaller illegal sized lobsters.
The State of Florida implemented a trap certificate program in 1993 to reduce the overall numbers of traps in the fishery. Since 1993, the number of lobster traps fished have been reduced by about 35%.
Together, the above management measures have helped to assure a sustainable lobster resource. In recent years overall survival of lobsters in the fishery has increased at the same time that total landings have increased.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is funding dive and commercial trap surveys to evaluate what benefits the recently implemented Western Sambos Ecological Reserve may provide for the local lobster population. The Sanctuary is also proposing larger reserves in the Dry Tortugas area that should protect a larger portion of the lobster population.
Additional information on seafood safety, buying, or preparation of seafood is available from the University of Florida/Monroe County Extension Service, 5100 College Road, Stock Island or call at 292-4501; fax = 292-4415; email = Monroe@mail.ifas.ufl.edu . Our services are free and available to all without regard to race, color, sex, or national origin.