Your Guide To Lobster Fishing In Florida

Lobster Diving In Florida

Every year there is a mass migration of lobster hungry scuba divers to the waters of Florida. Each trying their hand at catching the evasive lobster and bringing home a tasty meal. There are two separate seasons which happen. The mini season, is on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July. It begins on the Wednesday at 12:01 am and ends Thursday at midnight. The main season runs from August 6 – March 31st of each year.

The Tools You’ll Need

  • Lobster Gauge – Lobster must be measured underwater before being placed in your game bag.
  • Mesh Game Bag – Try and find one that attach to your gear easily, open and shut easily and offer a locking mechanism. Lobster are quick and escape!
  • Dive Light
  • Dive Flag
  • Short-Handled Lobster Net and Tail Snare – Nets are preferred on sand flats while tail snares are best on a reef.
  • Tickle Stick – Doesn’t have to be fancy, but a thin fiberglass stick about 2 feet long can go a long way in encouraging lobsters out of holes and not hurting the reef.
  • Gloves

Where To Hunt

You can catch Florida’s spiny lobsters up and down the coasts of Florida there are some areas which are better than others and some which you must avoid.

The Florida Keys

Monroe County has the largest population of lobsters in the state and also draws the most lobster divers. About 70 percent of all lobster collected in Florida come from the reefs in Monroe County. During the mini-season bag limits are smaller here and diving at night is illegal. If you are interested in getting in on the mini-season, book your hotel or campsite early as they fill up quick!

There are no go zones in this area as well. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, John Pennekamp State Park, and a few Sanctuaries as well.

The lobster can be found in waters as shallow as 3 feet down to more than 100 feet.

The Gold Coast

While the reefs of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach aren’t as busy as the Keys, there are certainly areas which are very rich in lobster. During the mini season, there are no rules about night diving so some local dive operators offer around the clock charter service.

The East Coast

From Vero Beach to Jacksonville, lobster hunting season is a big deal to local hunters. There are secret spots which you will be hard pressed to coax out of the locals where there are still plenty of lobster! There are plenty of shore dives which can result in decent catches and offshore three tank trips which visit more remote and less fished locations.

How To Catch A Lobster

Lobster diving isn’t easy. Chances are if it’s your first time you will lose a lot more than you bring in. First you have to find them and then you have to catch them, measure them, put them in your bag, and keep them in your bag. Any of these tasks offers the lobster an opportunity to escape. And chances are once they are gone. They’re gone for good!

To find them, look under rocks, and in cracks and crevices. The antennae will likely be the only thing poking out. Bring a light and check deep into crevices. They also can often be found in very close vicinity to eels.

When it comes time to catch them, you have to think like a lobster. Lobster retreat backwards to make an escape. Get your net or tail snare in behind them after coaxing them out with your tickle stick. Let them fall into your trap. Always make sure you are using the right tool for the job. In an open area, a net might work great. In a smaller closed in area a tail snare and tickle stick combo will likely work best.

Once you catch it, make sure you keep it. Many, many lobster have been lost while they are being measured, checked for eggs and transferred to your bag. Make sure you have a bag that you can secure easily, connects to your gear, and remains locked throughout your dive. When handling lobster, be sure to grab them by the body as they will gladly sacrifice antennae or legs for a chance at freedom.

The Rules Surrounding Lobster Season

Lobster is one of Florida’s most important commercial seafood, and there are state laws which regulate their harvest. These rules are designed to give lobster the opportunity to reproduce and maintain a stable population. Primary responsibility for enforcing these laws lies with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The rules are strictly enforced and there are serious fines, possible jail time, and also the forfeiture of your dive gear! (gasp) So please follow the rules.

Get a license

You must have a valid license with a lobster stamp. These are widely available and even able to be purchased online here.

Know the rules

The following rules were taken from the myfwc website and are valid for the 2018 season. Please check this link before you go to ensure all rules are current.

Spiny Lobster Sport Season

Season dates Bag limit Possession limit – on the water Possession limit – off the water Minimum size limit
July 25-26, 2018 (Last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July each year) 6 per person per day for Monroe County and Biscayne National Park

12 per person per day for the rest of Florida

Equal to the daily bag limit Equal to the daily bag limit on the first day, and double the daily bag limit on the second day Carapace larger than 3″, measured in the water

Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times

*Possession limits are enforced on and off the water

**Night diving (swimming at or below the surface of the water) is prohibited in Monroe County (only during the sport season)

***Harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.

Regular Spiny Lobster Season

Season dates Bag limit Possession limit – on the water Minimum size limit
Aug. 6 – March 31 6 per person per day Equal to the daily bag limit Carapace larger than 3″, measured in the waterPossession and use of a measuring device is required at all times

Find out how to measure spiny lobster

***Harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.

Other Prohibitions

  • Unless exempt, a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit are required to harvest spiny lobster
  • Lobster must be landed in whole condition. Separating the tail from the body is prohibited in state waters.
  • The harvest or possession of eggbearing spiny lobster, or any other eggbearing species of lobster belonging to the families Palinuridae (spiny lobsters), Scyllaridae (slipper lobsters) or Synaxidae (furry lobsters) is prohibited
  • No person shall harvest or attempt to harvest spiny lobster using any device which will or could puncture, penetrate or crush the exoskeleton (shell) or the flesh of the lobster
  • Recreational trapping prohibited
  • Regardless of what species you are fishing for, bag limits are only for properly licensed individuals and those people exempt from license requirements who are actively harvesting. People harvesting may not exceed their individual bag limit and take someone else’s bag limit. That is, people (including children) who are not actively harvesting or are not properly licensed (if a license is required) may NOT be counted for purposes of bag limits.

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