The 2016 lobster mini-season opened at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday with several early birds scoring good starts to the two-day event. Tony L’Heureux of Port St. Lucie and friends dove out of Fort Pierce and needed just two hours to catch nine lobsters before returning to Stan Blum Boat Ramp by 4 a.m.
Richard Hunt of Port St. Lucie and his crew of divers picked up 12 diving in 42 feet of water.
“We had pretty good visibility Monday when we scouted some of our spots, maybe 25 feet of it in that depth,” he said. “But conditions changed a little bit and some cold and dirty water moved in.”
Divers working waters of Florida are allowed to take 12 lobsters per person unless diving in Monroe County (The Florida Keys) or Biscayne Bay, where the limit is six per person. Lobsters must have a minimum size of 3 inches measures at the carapace or head section, and those lobsters must be measured in the water.
Egg-bearing females are not allowed to be removed from the water, and eggs may not be scraped off.
Law enforcement with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and local agencies will be working Treasure Coast waters to ensure divers are safe and obey laws.
According to the FWC, an estimated 60,000 divers are expected to participate in the annual roundup of tasty crustaceans. The state has sold 280,000 lobster stamps this year. About 40,000 divers are expected to dive in the Keys. On the Treasure Coast, 13,885 divers have lobster stamps.
At Dive Odyssea dive shop in Fort Pierce, more than a dozen customers came in before 6 a.m. to refill dive tanks.
Scott Shaler said lobster hunters were pleased with the beach diving, where they picked up good numbers and good-sized bugs.
By 6:30 a.m., an estimated 60 boats could be observed diving the first reef line in 15 feet of water along North Beach, north of Fort Pierce Inlet.
South of the inlet, six boats were working the same reef line.
At dawn, boats departed the inlet at a rate of one boat per minute. Some boat ramps, like Black Pearl next to South Bridge, already had congestion with boaters launching, and minor ramp rage.
The Stan Blum boat ramp in Fort Pierce is already nearing capacity for boat trailer parking. Eager lobster divers are boarding pontoon boats, catamaran-hulled fishing boats and bay boats to head out and ply calm warm waters for tasty crustaceans.
Many leaving now are carrying scuba tanks. Reports from reefs close to the beach indicate decent lobsters, but big crowds, too.
Tony L’Heureux of Port St. Lucie said he dove in 35 feet of water at night and had 16 feet of visibility.