View Full Version : New Lobster Rules

02-09-2004, 09:26 AM
Feb. 5, 2004
CONTACT: Lee Schlesinger (850) 487-0554
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today approved a series of rule amendments to implement the spiny lobster commercial dive permit program beginning in the 2004-05 fishing season. Commissioners also approved a three-year suspension of the passive/active lobster trap reduction program in order to conduct a comprehensive re-evaluation of Florida's lobster fishery.
Last May, the Commission created a commercial lobster dive permit program in order to separate the management of the commercial dive fishery from the commercial trap fishery. Rule amendments passed today by the Commission are intended to aid implementation of the commercial dive program and strengthen the prohibition against harvesting lobster from artificial habitat. The rule amendments:
* Establish a commercial lobster dive permit beginning in the 2004-05 fishing year
* Establish a qualification period of either the license year July 1, 2000 - June 30, 2001, July 1, 2001 - June 30, 2002 or July 1, 2002 - June 30, 2003
* Establish a moratorium on issuing new permits from Jan. 1, 2005 until July 1, 2010
* Prohibit dive permit holders from also holding lobster trap certificates
* Specify that the 250-lobster commercial dive vessel limit apply in Monroe, Dade, Broward, Collier and Lee counties
* Apply the 250-lobster vessel limit to lobsters caught with commercial bully nets statewide
* Prohibit divers from possessing lobsters exceeding the recreational bag limit within 10 yards of artificial habitats (as defined by FWC rule)
* Establish the period of time when trap certificates may be transferred or inactivated in order to receive a dive permit
* Allow for landings qualifications to be either from an individual or vessel saltwater products license
* Specify that the commercial dive permit applies only to a vessel
* Allow transfer of permits to an immediate family member in the event of disability or death of the permit holder
* Establish an appeals program
* Establish commercial lobster dive vessel markings
Another approved rule amendment suspends the passive/active lobster-trap-reduction program for three years to give the FWC time to consider a comprehensive reassessment of the spiny lobster fishery, which has experienced consecutive years of significantly depressed landings. The goal of this effort will be to readdress the total management of the fishery, and develop a long-term comprehensive plan that will consider biological, economic and enforcement issues. The trap-reduction program will be continued after the three-year moratorium unless the Commission takes further action.
The three-year evaluation of the lobster fishery will include, but not necessarily be limited to, harvest allocation, quotas, fee structures, trap reduction, commercial diving (including possible closed areas), recreational harvest, size and bag limits, season length, allowable gear, alternative trap designs and legal lobster habitats, and environmental and law enforcement issues.
A spiny lobster stock assessment has recently been prepared by the Florida Marine Research Institute, and is currently being reviewed by FWC scientists. This assessment will be submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service for a joint review under the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) process. This process will provide an opportunity for a thorough review of the stock assessment and will be integral to completion of a comprehensive re-evaluation of the spiny lobster fishery.
The new rule spiny lobster rule amendments take effect on April 1.

02-09-2004, 09:28 AM
Let's commission a study to correlate increasing GG populations to decreasing lobster landings.

02-09-2004, 09:55 AM
I'm confused by this statement

[QUOTE]* Prohibit divers from possessing lobsters exceeding the recreational bag limit within 10 yards of artificial habitats (as defined by FWC rule)

I'm assuming they mean things like wrecks and pipes, but also most Florida Marine patrol officers are also inturpeting artificial structure to include bridges. So how do I get back to the boat ramp with my otherwise legal catch?


Ed Walker
02-09-2004, 10:24 AM
Man, Those trappers have an incredible amount of infulence. They get more traps than they would have had over the next 3 years while slamming it to their competition:1 Increased limits on commercial divers, more rules targeting commercial divers, moratoriums on dive permits, bigger penalties for commercial divers.....Jeez. Hard to believe they can get themselves an even bigger slice of the pie like that considering that they take way more lobster than the divers already. Now a diver is limited to 250 a day and a trapper can have unlimited lobster yet somehow the diver is taking the heat for decreased landings.
I saw the trappers coming in to Key West last year with 800 to 1000 pounds of lobster A DAY. That story about the guys who were going out for 3 days to pull traps around the Marquesas, barely paying thier bills and crying the blues? Those guys just suck as fishermen and are in the wrong line of work. If you cant catch lobster with hundreds of traps all the way out there....you deserve to be poor.

Bottom Dweller
02-09-2004, 06:39 PM
Don't pull any puches Ed, tell us how you really feel. Remind me later not to call you when having a bad day.:D

02-09-2004, 07:09 PM
Prohibit divers from possessing lobsters exceeding the recreational bag limit within 10 yards of artificial habitats (as defined by FWC rule)

They have been having problems with commercial divers putting out "Casitas" in the lower keys. These are barrels, pipes, car hoods, etc... to attract lobster.

02-12-2004, 04:01 PM
The new lobster rules are designed to stabilized an out-of-control situation whereby people were putting out lots of well built and junk habitat to catch and sell lobsters to circumvent the State's attempt to reduce overall fishing mortality. Not only was the deployment of habitat illegal but it was and may still be increasing greatly. In 1993 the FWC restricted trap fishing effort only with no restrictions on recreational or commercial dive harvest. To date commercial trappers have had their traps reduced by over 40% which made lobsters more available to the unrestricted user groups. The percent of commercial harvest attributable to divers increased substantially during the same period lobster traps were being reduced.

The FWC was actually generous to divers. A good diver on natural habitat catches at most 100 lobsters in a day. FWC gave them 250. The dive permit and moratorium is designed to stabilize the fishery. Some trappers argued to be fair the divers's commercial harvest should be reduced to what it was in 1993 when the trap reduction started. The FWC did not do that.

In initial discussions, the FWC said harvest of lobsters from any unpermitted artificial habitat was illegal for both rec and com divers. I do not know if they changed that. It seems so since they now say you can not exceed the bag limit. Something to check out.

Rest assure, the divers are not being PICKED on. But rather they had a 10 year free ride and have capitalized on it. The FWC should have realized in the beginning you can not manage fishing effort in a fishery by limiting only one user group. The divers actually got off good considering the massive amount of illegal dumping that was going on in the Keys, and within the Fla Keys Natl Marine Sanctuary! What other group of fishing conducting illegal activities have been successful at negotiating a permanent status in a fishery? I would say the divers involved in the politics of all this have been pretty successful and should be pleased with their success.

Doug Gregory
UF Fla Sea Grant Extension Agent
Key West

Ed Walker
02-12-2004, 04:33 PM
Yes, I guess I see what you are saying Doug. Im neither a commercial diver or a trapper. I have heard that the guys who built the lobster condos really had it figured out in the last few years. I am glad they modified the rules to keep a sport diver from being arrested for tickling a bug out of an old barrel he finds. I know that wasnt the intention of the rule last year. According to the FWC officers I spoke with that is. I do feel that the physical damage to the reef from all those traps should be addressed.

I have several friends who commercial dive in August and I dont think they are builders (you'd be crazy to nowadays) and they catch 200 to 300 some days early in the season. They stay for a month and last year they caught 1200 total, opening day they had 330 when I ran into them on the water. They bring them all home and sell them here.

Screen Name
02-12-2004, 04:35 PM
Originally posted by DGregory
The new lobster rules are designed to stabilized an out-of-control situation whereby people were putting out lots of well built and junk habitat to catch and sell lobsters to circumvent the State's attempt to reduce overall fishing mortality.
Doug Gregory
UF Fla Sea Grant Extension Agent
Key West

Doug- Thanks for your input. I'll give you the point that artifical habitat , especially in the wrong place, can be bad for the environment.......just like traps on top of coral heads and live bottom are.

Maybe I'm missing something, but why would the limits not be set so they sustain the fishery and be the same for everyone, regardless of gear type, providing the gear does not damage the environment?

In the final analysis, thats all that is tangible and genuinely enforcable: How many lobsters were harvested & sold, and how big they were.


John Schmidt

02-13-2004, 07:54 AM
Throughout the 1980s it became clear that the number of traps being fished was increasing every year. This trend in increasing fishing effort is true in virtually all fisheries and with all user groups. In 1976 when all the Caribbean countries went to 200 mile jurisdictions the south Florida Caribbean lobster fleet--a lot of whom where primarily fishing the Bahamas out of Miami--were forced into the Keys waters. The newcomers created turf battles and generally tension AND COMPETITION increased. Also the Marathon fleet was expanding to the west. Consequently, a trap numbers race began. In the 70s an average # traps per boat was 800-1000. In 1993 it was 2000-3000. During this 20 year period the industry went from about 200K traps to 1M traps.

BUT, Total landings in the 80s and early 90s was no greater than it was in the early 70s so it was obvious that the same amount of lobsters could be caught with much fewer traps. Meanwhile the recreational harvest was "sacred" and the commercial dive harvest was insignificant so the total focus was on reducing fishing effort in the trap fishery.

The FWC should have monitored the situation closer but their biologists were pretty much in denial that anything other than traps could be a problem.

The habitat divers were initially and primarily the younger generation of fishermen who were divers and did not have the catch history to qualify for sufficient trap tags to stay in business so they sold their few tags and started putting out habitats (car hoods, drums, virtually anything). Then they started building concrete forms that were highly effective at attracting and holding lobster. Other locals, like firemen, carpenters etc. found they could make thousands of dollars in a week or two. There is habitat virtually all over the shallow Gulf area of the lower Keys.

There were no conflicts until landings declined by 40% from a high of 7 mp to about 4.5 mp. Then the trap fishermen who traditionally fished in the area where habitats were being deployed started complaining....A verbal civil war ensued with neighbor against neighbor.

In 1990 it was clear lobster catch could be maintained with fewer traps.....but only if the catch did not go to other user groups....so the FWC promised the trap reduction program would increase catch rates to maintain level total catches and that the trap industry's share of the fishery would not be reduced.

In fact, both recreational and commercial dive sectors have increased their share in the total catch which coupled with about 4 below average years of landings, news of a lobster virus in juveniles, fear that our spawning stock in Nicaragua and Honduras is being decimated by illegal harvest of juveniles. and concern the present management approach is not working as well as expected, the FWC stopped further reductions(we now have about 400K traps being fished), limited the potential growth of the newly developing commercial dive fishery and has even changed recreational bag limits somewhat. The FWC is now trying to figure out what to do to bring the fishery back.

Stock assessment for lobster is complicated....thats another message.

All problems associated with potential trap impacts on the bottom are directly related to how many are out there...Everyone thought that reducing traps was going to be THE ANSWER. But in reality the whole social and economic picture needs to be evaluated.

With gentrification with have more "non professional" fishermen who do not necessarily fish their gear appropriately or retrieve it at the end of the year because they have other sources of income and can be more lax with their "costs". We have greater theivery from traps by some fishermen with too few traps to fish and they do not want to spend $60 a tag per trap for additional traps. We have more people putting out untagged traps. and the sale of illegal undersize lobsters is increasing----all as more fishermen try to make ends meet in a period of depressed landings.

We just have too many fishermen on the water, 2/3 of them only part timers and still too many traps being fished.

The FWC will be holding a lot of workshops in the next three years. Participate and maybe all the user groups can come out with a fair shake with a growning lobster population.

I held a workshop last June for the industy. You can see the abstracts of the talks on my web page
Down the page click on "Florida Keys Lobster Workshop held June 6, 2003".

Anyone who wants more info on these subjects can contact me. I can provide either background papers or put you in touch with the researcher directly.

Doug Gregory

02-13-2004, 10:13 AM

Thank you very much... that is very informative.


02-13-2004, 10:34 PM
Thank you Doug,

It is great to get background information and motivation for the regulations that hopefully leads to understanding and cooperation.

However, I am serious about the Goliath Grouper influence, at least here off Tampa Bay where I have hunted for spiny lobster for over 10 years. There was a time where I would get 1 or 2 lobster just about every trip in season, and see several out of season. Now, I haven't seen more than four this year in waters out to 25 miles. I have seen vastly increasing numbers of goliath grouper on ledges and previous spots that never failed to hold at least one lobster. Additionally, the shovelnose or slipper lobster population has dwindled, by my observation.

So while, the building of artificial habitat may be a factor in the Florida Keys, there are not any appreciable artificial attractants up here.

We would greatly appreciate your input and opinion.