Florida Go Fishing man holding snook fish

Recreational Lobstering in Florida

red arrow Lobster Species
red arrow Where Are Lobsters
red arrow How to Catch Lobsters    
red arrow Hazards
red arrow Lobstering Gear    
red arrow Regulations
red arrow Seminars
red arrow Festivals
red arrow Recipes

Ready to go Bug Hunting?

Women and two men holding 4 large lobsters  each that they caught on a boat, all have big smiles
Photo Courtesy of Beast Charters of Miami

A funny thing happens every year in mid-July in Florida called "Bug Fever." Every man, woman and child turns into a "Lobstermaniac" discussing the possibilities of catching their very own Spiny Lobster. What starts this frenzy is the 2 day Mini Sport Season the last Wednesday and Thursday each July. Most people head to The Keys during these 2 days of madness but Bug Hunting in the rest of the state is just as good.

Wherever you are in Florida, opening day of Mini Season is completely nuts, everyone thinks they have to get out there chosen spot fast or all the Bugs will be gone. Well, hold on to your hat, there are plenty of Bugs to go around.

The best place to try out Mini Season is the Southeast with less regulations and where you can go from shore or get on a boat and reach a reef in minutes.

Locals call Spiny Lobsters "Bugs" and Lobster divers are called "Bug Hunters." Every July we experience "Bug Fever." Then in August when Lobster Season officially starts it is a "Bug Bonanza" until the end of March when season closes. Ya, we have a lot of "Bugs" in Florida!

2019 Mini Sport Season July 24 & 25 - Recreational Lobstering Only

2019 Regular Season August 6 to March 31 - Recreational & Commercial

 

Where to Find Lobsters in Florida

Lobsters underneight a ledge all lined up in a row
Photo Courtesy of FWC

Lobsters are nocturnal creatures and can be found out in the open walking around looking for their next meal during the night. During the day when most Bug Hunters are hunting, they hide under rocks, ledges, bridge pilings, coral outcrops and in holes, out of the sunlight, resting up for their next nighttime feeding.

The Bugs can be found both individually or in groups backed into holes with the antennae facing out waving in the water, always on guard for approaching predators. When an approaching predator is detected by their sensitive antennae, they will back up deeper into their hole for safety.

Lobster holes or dens can be found in very shallow ledges that can be hard to notice because they look like part of the sea floor. They are also found in deep relief reefs. Any overhang is a potential Bug Cave. To find a honey hole of Lobsters, look for antennae's sticking out, they almost look like sticks. Once you train your eyes to pick up the antennae you will have not trouble spotting them.

Lobster hiding upder a ledge with a lot of blue on its legs and body
Photo Courtesy of keysmarinelab.org

One thing is for sure, a lobster hot spot this year may have none next year. Lobsters move around a lot. Their movement is effected by weather, currents, and the concentration of predators. Cold water upwellings can occur on the Southeast coast causing Lobsters to scatter. Cold water upwellings occur usually in July when storms drive nutrient & oxygen rich cold water up from the depths of the Florida Straits onto continental shelf. You can actually see the cold water because it is a different color than the surrounding waters. Another factor that can contribute to Lobster movement are tides. Incoming tides bring in clear water with good visibility, outgoing tides can cloud the water, reduce visibility, and cause Lobsters to move around or go deeper into their dens, making them harder to find.

Many will go out weeks before season opens and find Lobster holes, marking the GPS numbers so they can come back on opening day. Now if you get to your pre-selected spot first, it's all yours and hopefully you bag a lot. If someone beat you to the spot, be curteous and move on.

a spiny lobster sits inside a reef scope underwater view bucket

Lobsters tend to be larger the further north you go, mostly because they receive less fishing pressure. Central and North Florida Spiny Lobsters are mostly targeted by divers because their habitat is way offshore in deep water. The Southeast and Keys have inshore shallow coral reefs that can be reached from shore or a short boat ride thus increasing fishing pressure. The coral reefs in the South are also a nursery for the Bugs, so there will be more juvenile's in these areas.

Lobsters Under a ledge, lots of antennae sticking up

Mass Migrations

Mass migrations of thousands of Spiny Lobsters can occur in the fall months when the weather starts to change. This migration is usually spurred by incoming tropical storms which cause the shallow inshore waters to become turbulent, the water cools, disrupting their inshore habitat. The first storm to arrive that cools the waters is the signal for them to start queueing up for their march. Starting during evening hours the Lobsters will gathering together and when one finally takes the lead, the others will start following eventually creating a in single file. The Lobsters will march with their bodies closely touching the one in front of it across barren sea floors out to deep water reefs. Now if you are lucky to come across a Parade of Bugs you will not have much trouble harvesting your bag limit for the day!

Where are the Unregulated Lobsters?

You can find the many species of lobsters all over the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, most of which are on offshore reefs as you can see in the diagram below. Few and far between but available, you just have to look for them. Most of these lobsters, especially the slippers, live in the sand or hide on the ceilings of structures. If you are luck to find one, they are excellent to eat and are prepared the same as other lobsters. Spanish & slipper lobster harvesting is restricted in several areas in The Florida Keys, see regulations.

Diagram showing the Lobster By-Catch by Shrimp Trawlers

Catching a Shovelnose Lobster

Shovelnose Lobster
Courtesy of MBARA - Shovelnose locally called Bulldozer Lobster

Shovelnose Lobsters are not regulated except you cannot harvest egg bearing females. The Shovelnose, also called Slipper or Bulldozer, is a masters of disguise, their spotty reddish brown shells blend right in with their surroundings. Shovelnose are usually found inside pipes or on the roofs of ledges upside down. They can also be found buried in the sand on swiss cheese covered bottom. You can spot them by their purple antennae, using a flashlight helps to see inside dark holes. They are easy to catch, just grab them by the body. They don't have any spines so bare handed it OK. They are not fast swimmers but gentle movement is the key to getting your hands on them before they back into a hole where you can't reach them.

There are many Shovelnose in the Panhandle and on the east coast of Florida in usually 20 to over 100 feet. Watch this video taken off Panama City Beach, jump forward to 3:50 minutes to see the Shovelnose capture.

 

Northwest - Gulf of Mexico

Diver holding a huge spiny lobster against his chest
Image Courtesy of Panama City Spearfishing

The Panhandle has more artificial reefs than any other part of Florida offering perfect habitat for Bugs. Bug Hunters in the Panhandle find more Shovelnose lobsters than Spiny lobsters on offshore reefs, usually 20 to over 100 feet of water. The Spiny lobsters found offshore are not abundant but when you find one they are huge as you can see in the picture to the right.

Dozens of Shovelnose lobsters on a boatPanama City Dive Charters, avid spear fishermen and bug catchers, tell us all about the Bugs in their area. "There are 2 types of lobsters found in waters off our coast, the large but rare Spiny lobster and the camouflaged Shovelnose Lobster, see picture. Lobsters of both kinds are rarely found in water shallower than 100 feet, though Shovelnose are occasionally dragged up in shrimp nets in the bays. So it is theoretically possible to find Shovelnose lobsters on the jetties, it is in no way common. They live out most their lives on reefs 10+ miles offshore in normal circumstances. Shovelnose and Spiny lobster both share their reef homes with many creatures, all of which have lots of teeth, our most valuable tip to someone digging around in the reef for the illusive Shovelnose is to watch out for Eels and Toad Fish! Spiny lobster are regulated by the FWC, but Shovelnose lobster have no season or bag limit, as long as they are not taken while bearing eggs."

Central West - Gulf of Mexico

In the Tampa area spiny lobsters are rarely found inshore but you can find some off Tampa Bay scattered around deep wrecks offshore and they are usually very large, in the 15 pound range. As a sport, lobstering on the central west coast is not a pastime, most lobsters are caught by divers hunting other species.

Southwest - Gulf of Mexico

Lobstering is unheard of in this part of the state. The sea floor in Southwest Florida does not offer good habitat for lobsters to reside with it's vast, sandy bottom and reefs (natural and man-made) very far apart.

Well, Naples Spearfishing League knows where the lobsters are off Naples as you can see in this picture of John Wendell holding the big ones in March 2013. We were told you have to get into 100 feet deep water, about 50 miles out, to find lobsters. They are scarce from 45 to 80 feet off Naples..

 

2 men on a boat holding huge lobsters they caught off Naples

 

The Florida Keys

Woman in dive suit holds a large lobster with orange gloved hands
Carol Cox of MBARA, picture taken in The Keys, they
used our Monroe County Reef Chart to find dive sites
during this trip!

This is where most Lobsters are harvested in Florida due the year round warm waters, abundant reefs and wrecks offering perfect habitat for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster to reproduce and thrive. Lobsters tend to be smaller in the Keys than in other parts of Florida, averaging about 1 pound with a real big one being 1 1/2 pounds. Check out our Reefs & Shipwreck pages for sites that allow Lobstering.

The Lower Keys offer endless reefs and permitted shipwrecks for some great Lobsters. There are many great reefs like Western Dry Rocks or Pelican Shoal with mooring buoys. star icon Lower Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks

The most popular Bug Hunting grounds are in the Middle Keys which has fewer no-take areas and hunting can be done on both the Bay side and the Atlantic side. Look for coral patches or rock outcroppings and you will surely find a lot of Bugs. Lobstering on Thunderbolt or other permitted shipwrecks can be fun.
star icon Middle Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks

The Upper Keys receive less pressure during Mini Season because John Pennekamp Park and the whole Bay side is closed to Lobstering. During regular season you can hunt Lobsters inside Pennekamp Park but not in no-take areas nor on natural coral reefs so your hunting grounds are limited unless you go out past the park which is about 3 miles into Federal waters. The Bay side should be avoided, almost all of it is no-take. For details on where you can/cannot Lobster in the Upper Keys see our section below.star iconUpper Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks

Southeast - South Atlantic

This area is just as good as the Keys with less regulations and you can even hunt at night during Mini Season here so boats will be out around the clock catching Lobsters feeding out in the open during the we hours of the night. Bug Hunters in the southeast can find Lobsters 50 yards off beaches, on the endless reefs that skirt the shoreline, on shipwrecks, jetties, inlets, or any submerged place with holes. Bug Hunters will get in the water from the beaches and free dive or scuba dive. The Gulf Stream skirts this area very close, bathing the area in clean, clear water which produces great visibility. Spiny Lobsters average about 1 1/2 pounds in the Southeast. Shovelnose Lobsters can be found on inshore reefs too. The better tasting Spotted Spiny Lobster are sometimes found around jetties and on inshore reefs but are not that common. To get an idea of what Lobstering is like on the Southeast coast of Florida watch this video filmed inshore off Pompano Beach near the pier. Florida Go Fishing attending the 2012 Mini Lobster Season in Broward County, check out our report.

Central East - South Atlantic

Diver on boat in Florida  holding a huge Spiny Lobster
Photo Courtesy of MyFWC Media on Flickr

The Central East coast offers shore diving, inshore and offshore reefs. The Bugs start getting much bigger in this region but not as abundant as their Southern neighbors.

In St. Lucie's Pepper Park there are several shallow nearshore reefs located less than 100 yards off the beach in 20 feet or less water. The reefs of Wabasso Beach also offer Bug Hunters some action. The Monster hole in the Sebastian Inlet State Park has been known to hold big Lobsters. Ponce de Leon Inlet has lots of big Bugs in the offshore deep reefs. In Vero Beach you have Jaycee Beach Park that offers shore accessible reefs. The Melbourne Ledge, about 18 miles from Sebastian inlet, has ledges with high relief holding some big Lobsters.
Icon indicating document is PDF Beach Dive Sites Treasure Coast

 

Northeast - South Atlantic

All we can say is HUGE! Every report of Lobsters being harvested on deeper reefs in the Northeast shows most Lobsters over 5 pounds, many over 10 to 15 pounds. Are the Lobsters bigger because of the cold water or because there is less fishing pressure?

Watch this video taken on a reef 47 miles offshore of Jacksonville in 130 feet of water that was 60 degrees can see the reefs are much different in the cooler northern waters and the Lobsters are very big. Make the video full screen to really enjoy it.

Shore Dive Sites

We will be updating this section with sites. In the mean time we are listing links to websites or documents that have information on dive sites that can be reached from the beach or from shore.

Take a Lobster Charter!

There are many group or private charter boats that can take you out to reefs for Bug Hunting. Joining a group charter is the cheapest way to get out. Try a charter in a new area, meet some new dive buddies, and have a stress free trip. Watch this video taken on a group charter out of Pompano Beach during Mini Season. This movie is long but well worth your time, the video is amazing.

 

How to Catch a Spiny Lobster

Get Ready and Gear Up

Boy in the water with snorkel mask and net ready to lobster
Courtesy of FL Sea Grant, Nancy Richie

Before you get in the water you need to have all your gear ready and a cooler with ice to keep the Lobsters fresh. Efficiently attaching all your necessary gear to your body or each other and know where they are is the key to success. See our Gear section below for what you need and other goodies that can help you catch more Bugs.

  • Lobster gauge attached to your wrist, tickle stick or net
  • Whistle around your neck on a lanyard or on your life vest
  • Attach your catch bag to your waist or weight belt if you are using one
  • Attach your floating dive flag to your waist or make sure one is displayed on the boat
  • Put on your fins, snorkel life vest and goggles on your head - if your diving you know what to do.
  • Grab your net, stick and flag, jump in the water, then put your goggle on and your ready to hunt

And don't forget you need a Lobster stamp on your fishing license and have it on board your boat or with you if venturing from land.

Find, Tickle & Net Lobsters by Snorkeling or Diving

diver with net and tickle stick after a lobster
Image Courtesy of http://www.bugfestbythesea.com/

The most popular way to catch Lobsters in Florida is to use a tickle stick to get the Lobster to exit his hole, then capture the Lobster with a wide, short handled net. Once you have located a Lobster in a crevice, have you net in one hand ready to catch a darting Lobster then carefully slide your tickle stick behind the Lobster with your other hand and gently tap his behind. The Lobster will shoot from his hole at the speed of light and if you put your net in the right position, it should dart straight into your net. Sounds easy? Well, for the inexperienced it is not. You must have your net almost covering the hole as you stick your tickler in behind him or he will shoot right by you. Poof - gone!

"If you are free-diving with no air supply, pick an area where water depths will allow you at least 30 seconds of bottom time." Another good piece of advice from Alan Peircefor of FWC: "those who are new to the sport should "learn to clear your ears." Making repetitive dives even to only 6 to 10 feet without clearing your ears each time can be very painful."

NEVER grab a Lobster by it's antennae, the Lobster will self-amputate the antennae and you will not get him, only a hand full of worthless body parts. Plus you will leave the poor Bug without his primary means of self-defence and he may not survive to make more Bugs.

Did You Know? Lobsters in your catch bag are"harvested." Always measure before bagging bugs!

See Lobstering in Action

This video shows many areas where you can find Spiny Lobsters and how they catch them. Please note that they are not measuring before they put the bug in their catch bags. Shame on them! Always measure before bagging.

Tail Snare "The Loop"

A Tail Snare lets you "tickle" and snag the Lobster using only one tool, no net is necessary. Just encircle the loop around the tail while he is still in the hole or as he is exiting. It is not as easy as it looks, a net is by far easier for the novice Bug Hunter. Watch this video taken off Jacksonville Lobstering, the diver catches Bugs using a Tail Snare. Notice the diver brings his speargun along on the hunt - using a Tail Snare frees one hand and lets you carry your gun along.

New! We are one of the first online retailors to offer the Assassin Pro All-in-One Harvesting Tool. Check it out and watch the video!

Towing Hunters

Diagram showing 2 divers being towed behind a boat on a sam boardTowing bug hunters is a popular way to find Lobsters. Equipped with all your gear, a snorkelers will be towed from a ski rope behind the boat. The boat should troll very slowly over grassy ledges just off coral reef areas or over ledges and limestone holes. When a hunter spots bugs he will simply release the tow rope or board and go bug hunting. It is always a good idea to have a spotter on the boat to let the captain know the bug hunter let go and dove after bugs so he/she can circle back to where the divers are.

Sam Boards or wake boards tied to waterski lines are used by experienced hunters. For ideas on how to setup your boat and making your own Sam board read this Spearboard discussion.

Bully Netting

Bully Netting is using a net to catch bugs. The law states a bully net cannot be larger than 3 feet in diameter and a Hoop Net cannot be larger than 10 feet in diameter. A popular practice is to mount lights on your boat and go at night, patrolling the grass flats just off reefs. When you spot a Lobster drop the net on it, the Lobster will shoot into the net then you retrieve it. This video show you how.

Once You Catch a Lobster

1. Look for Eggs 2. Measure in the Water
Female Lobsters with eggs How to measure a spiny lobster diagram

Once you have captured a Bug you now have to do 2 important things: look for eggs and measure it. First look for eggs and if it is an egg-bearing female you must release it and try again. Now it's time to get out your Gauge and measure it. Measuring the Lobster must be underwater per the law, learn how to measure below. If your catch is undersized, it's called a Short, put it back in the water. If it is a Keeper then you need to transfer it to your catch bag by firmly grabbing the Lobster by the body and put it in the bag, tail first. The experienced bug hunter will usually have a mesh bag that is tied to their waist for easy storage while in the water.

Storage & Transporting Lobsters

Cooler full of lobstersWhen you get out of the water with your Bag of Bugs you need to store them properly to keep them alive and kicking. Always keep them cool and out of the sun on their journey from your dive spot to your kitchen.

Large coolers with ice work great on a boat. Do not submerge the Bugs in the ice water, a towel laid over the ice with the Lobsters on top is best. Remember, this is a saltwater species so it will die if exposed to fresh water, especially fresh water from the tap which has chlorine and other chemicals.

Huge lobster in coolerAnother great option is to use your Bait Well as a holding tank for your freshly caught Lobsters. Bait wells are great because the water is replenished often, just don't crowd the Bugs or they will not survive.

Dock carts filled with saltwater right out of the bay work great as long as you keep the cart out of the sun and change the water often. If it is a very hot day the water temperature will rise quickly, so water changes are important to keep the temperature down and the Bugs alive. A pump that pulls sea water from the bay and constantly replenishes the tank water is ideal.

When you get home store the live Lobsters in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Do not cover them with anything except a wet towel. Placing them in a draw works great.

Hazards of Lobstering

For the inexperienced Bug Hunter, the first few times hunting can be a trying experience. Not only are you green as to how to catch a bug, you have to figure out where they hide and how to grab a squirming sharp-shelled creature. There also are unexpected hazards that most will encounter and with experience will try to prevent them on your next Hunting trip. Here are some common mishaps:

Many images on a tall pic

Lionfish - This evasive, nasty fish inhabits Crawfish holes and stings from the Lionfish are the #1 cause for injuries during Bug Hunting expeditions. The Lionfish has a poisonous venom which will not kill you but abruptly end your hunting expedition. If you can, capture and kill this evasive species.

Fire Coral Stings - Never touch corals, it is illegal anyway. Fire Coral stings are painful and the resulting rash can last for weeks.

Jellyfish Stings - Avoid any and all jelly fish to be safe. Most stings are from the long, dangling tentacles that divers unknowingly brush up against and receive a nasty burn.

Sea Lice - Don't get in the water if Sea Lice are present or you may get what looks like a nasty rash from hundreds of small stings. Be on the lookout for public warnings to stay out of the water in the summer months. Sea Lice are the larvae of the Thimble Jellyfish (Linuche unqui culata) and are invisible in the water and clearly visible out of the water.

Moray Eel Bites - Big Eels inhabit the same holes and crevices as Lobsters, they have big teeth and will bit right through tough gloves, so don't stick your hand in a hole, use your tickle stick.

Sunburn - It doesn't take long for Florida's powerful sun to give you a nasty burn. Always use sunscreen and wear a light colored shirt when snorkeling to protect your back and shoulders.

Cuts & Scrapes - Wear gloves to avoid getting cut on sharp limestone rocks or coral. Lobsters have spines, hence their name, and can easily cut you when you capture them.

Slammed into a Reef While Being Dragged - This can be fatal, keep your eyes open and stay alert while you are being dragged. Boats show tow divers at a very slow speed so the diver can spot Lobster holes.

Running Out of Air: Bug Hunting requires a lot more air than regular diving. Divers can lose track of air time, pre-occupied with the chase. Stay alert and remember to check you air supply often! And always go down with a full tank of air.

West Marine 3.5 Marine Medical KitGetting Arrested or Ticketed - Never, ever go Lobstering without your license with Lobster stamp, never take more than your limit or go where it is prohibited. The cops are everywhere and inspect boats & anglers both on the water and at the dock, pier or beach. Know the rules for the area you will be Lobstering before you venture out.

It also goes without saying that you should have a fully stocked First Aid Kit with you when you go Lobstering - cuts and scrapes are common hazards of this sport - lacerations, bites, and stings are less common but always a threat. Visit Hazards to Avoid for more details on staying safe in Florida.

 

Lobster Catching Gear

You do not need a lot of expensive lobster gear to start hunting - a tickle stick, hand net, gloves, lobster bag, and dive flag is all you need to get started. There are many other types of gear you may want to try once you've decided to pursue becoming an Expert Bug Hunter.

color line

 

Maro Deluxe Lobster Kit
Lobster Kits include gloves, tickle stick and net.
Marine Sports Florida Style Aluminum Lobster Gauge
Lobster Gauges are required by law. You must measure the Lobster under water with a gauge. Get one that has a wrist band so you always have it handy.

 

Orange honeycomb gloves
Gloves are necessary to protect your hands from the spines of the Lobsters and from sharp rocks and crevices.
Marine Sports Lobster Inn Bag
Lobster Bags are used to store your catch with most having circular openings that allow you to drop the lobster into a mesh to mesh bag. Many have loop ends so you can string the bag to your waist.

 

Tusa Splendive Dry Adult Travel Sets Sets; Blue;
Snorkel / Dive Gear Goggles are important to protect your eyes from the saltwater and to help you see your prey. Fins help you move along in the water easily but are not required equipment.
Inflatable Dive Flag & Float
Dive Flags are required by law, see Regulations. Dive floats with flags like this one are great to attach to snorkelers and divers so you can see where they are from the boat.

 

 

Marine Sports Aluminum Tickle Stick 36''
Tickle Sticks can be Aluminum, Fiberglass or PVC rods about 2 feet long, sometimes with a bend at the end used to coax the lobster out of it's hole. It is said the Lobster responds better to Aluminum sticks.

Oceanus Green Lobster Snare With Steel Loop
Tail Snare or "the loop" is used instead of the tickle stick and net. The Tail Snare is a metal or plastic hollow tube 2 to 3 feet long with a line running running thru it forming a loop at the end. The loop is usually covered in a protective plastic cover to protect the tail once snared.

 

Lobster Net with black netting aluminum pole
Lobster Nets with short handles are used to catch the Lobster as it exits its hiding place
ED Cumings Cumings 170 Sb 6 Bully Net
Bully Nets are also used to catch Lobsters as they shoot from their holes. There are also ready made nets available in local bait shops that are circular and are used at night by dropping the circle net on the seafloor and when a Bug walks onto the net you pull the attached cord to capture the Lobster.

 

snorkel vest in yellow
Inflatable Dive Vest are always a good safety item to use, especially for those who aren't the best swimmers.
black whistle on a wrist lanyard
Whistles are a great safety device to have handy so you can call for your boat or find your dive/snorkel partner.

 

marker buoys in yellow and red
Marker Buoys are used to mark a Lobster den where you missed catching a Lobster. The scared off Lobster will return to it's den in a short while and with the marker set on the den you can come back and try again.
Pelican Nemo 4300 Dive Light
Submersible Lights> are waterproof and used to spot Lobsters in their dark hiding places.

 

reef scope underwater viewing bucket
Underwater Viewing Buckets help you see reefs before you anchor up and jump in hunting. Get this bucket from our online store!
Sea Doo Seascooter
Sea Doo Seascooters are very cool machines that are great for getting hunting bugs. You go from one spot to another, covering a larger area than is possible swimming. They are not cheap but those who have them wouldn't hunt without them.

 

Hookah System float with dive flag
Hookah Systems on your boat give divers a constant supply of breathable air. You can also mount this system on a float. The diver's weight system is built into the belt that secures the air hose. This float has straps on the bottom to hold spear guns and lots of nooks and crannies for storing your gear.


Other Equipment
Spare Air Tanks allow you to stay down longer. These small tanks are refillable and light weight.

Tow Ropes can be used a slow speeds by a diver spotting for Lobster dens. Attach a board with handles on it for more comfort.

We have more Lobstering and Scalloping Gear on our shopping page.

We have GPS numbers for all the reefs!Fishing and Dive Sites Memory Card for the Florida Keys with reef sites

 

Lobstering Regulations

Seasons & Bag Limits

August 6 - March 31 Regular Season Mini Sport Season
A row of spiny lobsters August through March 2 Days in July
Opens 10 days after Mini Season Last Wednesday & Thursday
12:01 AM on August open date to
12:00 Midnight March 31
12:00 AM Wednesday to
12:00 Midnight Thursday

All of Florida except areas with special rules

6 per Harvester per Day 12 per Harvester per Day
Monroe County 6 per Harvester per Day 6 per Harvester per Day
Biscayne National Park 6 per Harvester per Day 6 per Harvester per Day
Possession Limits (on & off the water) Daily bag limit Daily bag limit day 1, double daily bag limit day 2

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.

Possession limits are enforced both on and off the water. You cannot harvest your limit, bring your catch home then go back out and harvest again.

Spiny lobster harvested in Florida & Federal waters shall remain in a whole condition at all times while on or below the waters and the practice of wringing or separating the tail (segmented portion) from the body (carapace and head) section is prohibited unless you have a permit to do so.

lobster being held with gloves and a measure device on the lobsters backRequired Gear & Paperwork

green checkmark icon Florida Fishing License with Lobster Stamp

green checkmark icon Dive Down Flag

green checkmark icon Lobster Gauge

 

Gear Restrictions

  • Gear such as spears, hooks, wire snares, and any device which could puncture, penetrate, or crush the shell of the Lobster is prohibited on ANY Lobster species.
  • Recreational trapping is prohibited.
  • Bully netting and Hoop Netting is allowed except in Everglades National Park where Lobstering is prohibited.

Measuring the Spiny Lobster

Diagram showing how to measure a spiny lobster
Diagram courtesy of National Park Service

All Bug Hunters must have a Gauge made for measuring Lobster with them in the water during harvesting activities. You must measure each Lobster to be sure it is of legal size.

  • Minimum carapace length of greater than 3 inches.
  • Measurement must take place in the water.
  • Tails can only be separated on land.
  • When the tail is se per ate from the body it must be greater than 5 1/2 inches.

The carapace is measured beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns, excluding any soft tissue, and proceeding along the middle to the rear edge of the carapace.

Female Lobsters

All Female Lobsters of any species must be returned to the water immediately if it is carrying eggs. The first thing you should do when you catch a Lobster is to check for eggs under the tail. If eggs are present, release her immediately.

Unregulated Lobsters

The harvest of ANY species of Lobster carrying eggs is Prohibited. There are no seasonal closures on Lobster species other than the Spiny caught in Florida with the exception of Spanish & Slippers as indicated below. For species that do not have an established bag limit, more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (which ever is greater), is considered commercial quantities and a SPL license is required.

Saltwater Products License (SPL) Requirements - Required to harvest over the recreational bag limit of species with an established bag limit or more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (whichever is greater) of a species that does not have an established bag limit, to sell harvested saltwater products, or to use certain gear (ss. 379.361, F.S. & Chapter 68B, F.A.C.).

Spanish & Slipper Lobsters

In Monroe County, the harvest of Spanish or Slipper Lobsters (any species of the Genera Panulirus or Scyllarides) is Prohibited Year Round in the following areas:

  • Key Largo EMA
  • Looe Key EMA
  • Everglades National Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • National Marine Sanctuary Preserves (SPA, SPAT, RO, ER)
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Lobster Exclusion Zones & from or within coral formations (patch reefs) within the Park.

Boating Regulations for Divers & Snorkelers

Diver Down Flags

girl on boat with dive flag on pole next to her
Photo courtesy of GAFFLife.com

State law requires the prominent display of a diver down flag when diving or snorkeling.

The dive flag must be 20" x 24" when displayed from a vessel, the flag, must be display right-side up (white line starts on upper left) and a stiffener is required to keep the flag unfurled. If you choose to drag a flag, the flag is required to be 12"x12". inflatable dive flag

The dive flag must be prominently displayed from the highest point on vessel and visible from 360 degrees so that the flag's visibility is not obstructed in any direction.

Divers must stay within 300 feet of dive flag in open water, and within 100 feet in rivers, inlets and narrow channels. Vessels within 300 feet of a dive flag in open waters or within 100 feet in rivers, inlets and narrow channels must operate at idle speed. When divers are out of the water, a dive flag may not be displayed.

In the flag in the image is upside down and the stiffner is not holding the flag out, it should be on diagnal corners!

Did You Know? The fine for not having a stiffner on your boat dive flag is $90 in 2012.

CAUTION: FWC now has new laser radar devices to enforce the dive down flag law which determines the distance a diver strays from a flag and the distance a boat get to a flag.

Q&A icon for questions and aswers

Q: If a group of divers/snorkelers get in the water from land, is each person required to tow a buoy with a flag?
A: No, only 1 person needs to tow a flag and every diver within 300' of the flag is covered.

Anchoring

Always use mooring buoys if available. Never anchor on coral reefs or artificial structure, always anchor in the sand. For the safety of your divers, stay clear of channels and high traffic areas.

Biscayne National Park

It is prohibited for anyone to dive or snorkel in, or within 100 feet of any marked channel within Biscayne National Park or in any harbor within the park.

Where You Cannot Lobster No lobstering icon

There are many areas around Florida that prohibit Lobstering. These areas are very important to the survival of the Spiny Lobster in Florida. These areas are nurseries, a safe haven for the Lobsters to reproduce and keep the stock healthy. The Lobster industry in Florida (commercial and recreational Lobstering) is a multi-million dollar industry and these closed areas help to maintain it. We indicate on our GPS Reef Charts the sites where you cannot hunt for Lobsters with this symbol No lobstering icon.

Year Round Closures

We outline in Red No Lobstering Zones for regular season on our Interactive Chart.

  • Biscayne Bay / Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary & Legare Anchorage, see Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure
  • Everglades National Park - Cannot possess Lobsters inside the park at any time
  • Dry Tortugas National Park - Must declare Lobster catches before entering the park.
  • John Pennekamp State Park Lobster Exclusion Zones & from or within any Coral Formation (patch reefs) with the Park. The term "patch reef" means any coral formation, consisting of a roughly circular area of hard corals, soft corals, and a mixture of other benthic invertebrates. Lobster Exclusion Zones are marked with white and yellow spar buoys and include:
    • Turtle Rocks
    • Basin Hills North
    • Basin Hills East
    • Basin Hills South
    • Higdon’s Reef
    • Cannon Patch
    • Mosquito Bank North
    • Mosquito Bank South East
    • Three Sisters North
    • Three Sisters South
  • The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Preserves (SPA, SPAT, RO, ER) No take areas marked with 30" round yellow boundary buoys.
  • All the waters of and around the City of Layton, including canals
  • Artificial Habitat in State Waters - No diving for Lobster (harvesting and possession) within 10 yards of an illegal Artificial Habitat. Artificial Habitats are shipwrecks or Illegal Lobster Condo's that are man-made like bathtubs, barrels, concrete, etc. You CAN hunt for Lobsters on Artificial Reefs that were intentionally placed and permitted by Florida DEP or Army Corps (e.g. Duane, Eagle, Thunderbolt).

Mini Sport Season Restrictions

  • NIGHT diving for Lobster is prohibited in Monroe County during Mini Season
  • Hoop Netting and Bully Netting IS permitted at night (night is 1 hour after official sunset to 1 hour before official sunrise)
  • John Pennekamp State Park closed during Mini Season
  • Biscayne National Park -You can Lobster outside the Lobster Sanctuary boundaries. Lobsters can only be possessed inside the Lobster Sanctuary when transporting your catch by car on, or after, the second day. See Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure
  • No Snorkeling or Diving during Mini Season within 300 feet of improved residential or commercial shoreline, any man-made or private canal, or any public or private marina for the following areas:
    • City of Marathon during 2 days of Mini Season
    • City of Key Colony Beach 4 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 10 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 26 days
    • Islamorada, Village of Islands 3 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 5 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 20 days
    • Unincorporated Monroe County 3 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 5 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 20 days
Unincorporated Monroe County
Anglers Park Duck Key Jewfish Key Perky Sugarloaf Key
Bay Point East Rockland Key Haven Pinecrest Sugarloaf Shores
Big Coppitt Key El Chico Little Torch Key Pirates Cove Summerland Key
Big Pine Key Flamingo Lois Key Ramrod Key Sunset Point
Big Torch Key Fort Jefferson Lower Sugarloaf Key Rock Harbor Tavernier
Boca Chica Key Garden Cove Middle Torch Key Rockland Key Thompson
Chatham Geiger Key Newport Saddlebunch Keys Trail Center
Conch Key Grayvik No Name Key Shark Key Upper Sugarloaf Key
Cudjoe Key Indian Key Ohio Key Stock Island  

 

The Biscayne Bay - Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary No lobstering icon

Lobstering in Biscayne Bay's Lobster Sanctuary is prohibited. You are not allowed to have lobsters on your boat if you are in the sanctuary. If you are passing through, you can have lobsters on board as long as you do not stop or get into the water. You cannot stop in the sanctuary and go swimming, diving, snorkeling if you have lobsters on your boat caught from another area.
icon represents pdf document Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure icon represents pdf document Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary Full Text of Law
icon of a star represents webpage Chart of Biscayne Bay - Card Sound Sanctuary

Chart of closed area during Florida Lobster Mini Sport Season

Brochures & The Florida Law

icon means this is a pdf document Regulations for Recreational Harvest and Lobster Information for Monroe County, Florida

icon means this is a pdf document Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure

Icon indicating document is PDFLobstering in John Pennekamp Park

icon means this is a pdf document Full Text of Lobstering Rules

Why Are Spiny Lobsters Regulated?

Regulations are in place to help sustain the Spiny Lobster populations. As you can see in the following chart, commercial and recreational landings of Lobsters had decreased substantially the past 20 years due to over fishing this species. If regulations were not in place the Spiny Lobster would eventually become extinct in Florida waters.

Chart of Lobster Landings by year, both commerical landings and recreational catches from 1991 to 2009

 

Marine Patrol officer writing out a ticket to a lobster hunter on a boatLaw Enforcement Are Everywhere

We can't stress enough the importance of learning the regulations for the area you will be Bug Hunting. Florida Marine Patrol is out in full force during Mini Sport Season checking most hunters when they off load their catch at public docks and ramps. They will also board your boat and check your catch while on the water. The law states they can inspect you both on and off the water.

Traffic stops during Mini Season are a possibility, so be sure to have no more than the legal bag limit per person in your vehicle on your way out of the Keys.

During regular season Marine Patrol actively checks anglers catches, it is just not worth the huge fines they happily give out. If your caught Poaching, you face jail time, loss of your boat and equipment, and huge fines.

Be sure to stay clear of No-Take areas and illegal artificial habitat, they are regularly patrolled. Anyone who frequents the waters in Florida knows Marine Patrol is very active and most of us have had our boat inspected at one time or another. So be safe and follow the rules.

 

Seminars & Workshops

Attending a lobster hunting seminar is a great way to learn how to catch Florida lobsters. Inquire at you local dive shop about upcoming seminars or classes. If you are in Orlando in the summer, Orlando Scuba Quest offers a 2 hour seminar which includes the 84 page book "Catching the Bug" which we sell on our store.

Orland Scuba Quest Lobster Catching Seminar

Celebrating the Lobster

Closeup of a Spiny Lobster tailThe Spiny Lobster is celebrated around Florida with statues, food festivals, concerts, contests and fund raisers. You can witness Lobster Mermaids, Lobstermen in money booths, you name it, they have it. Try Lobster fritters, grilled Lobster, and dozens of other ways Floridians cook the Spiny Lobster.

There are also Lobster Tournaments held around the state, one we came across from 2009 in Vero Beach offered $15,000 for a 16 pound Lobster!

Annual Lobster Festivals

  • Miami Spiny Lobster Tournament - 2 days during Mini Season in July
  • BugFest-By-The-Sea - 2 days during Mini Season July Report
  • Lobsterfest in Key West - 3 days in August
  • Lobster Festival & Tournament on Panama City Beach - 4 days in September
  • Marathon Seafood Festival - 2 days in March

 

Other Lobster Resources

icon of a star represents webpage Southern Lobster Recipes for tips on how to clean and cook lobsters.

icon of a star represents webpage History of Lobsters as a Delicacy

icon of a star represents webpage Southern Lobster Species to see some uncommon species