Mini-Season can translate into major chaos on the water, and the violations can mount for those ignorant about the laws. Or, those who choose to ignore them. The first morning of mini-season, The Weekly Newspapers put on a life jacket and climbed aboard a 24 foot SPCSW to see what unfolded as our Coast Guard men and women pulled over boaters, many of them loaded with their limit of “bugs”.
“Look at that, we’ve got three coming in,” BM2, or Boatswain Mate 2nd Class, Nick LaBoy flips the emergency switch up on the Special Purpose Craft for Special Water as he sails under the Fleming Cut Bridge. On board with him, BM2 Phil Padilla, and Machinery Technician 1st Class Spencer Thigpen.
“We’re looking for life jackets, fire extinguishers, and flairs initially,” Padilla says. During mini-season were also looking for appropriate size limits.”
The men pull up to a fair-skinned man with his family.
“We’re going to do a safety check, sir,” Thigpen takes control of the situation.
The boater appears to have just emerged from the water and reapplied sunblock. A white substance still sits on top of his freckled skin. His two fair-skinned children look on, clearly in awe of the uniformed men interacting with their father.
“Do we really have to do this on the water?” he asks quizzically, with his dive mask still unstrategically placed on his forehead.
The men secure his driver’s license, registration, and check for the other safety elements, while the boater’s children and wife sit in the audience. One, lone lobster lays on the floor.
“I thought you could use a life jacket for a throw,” the Key West man works with Thigpen to prove he’s following, or thought he was following, safety regulations.
The bug is measured, and a boat safety inspection is handed over for the gentleman to keep in his boat, should he be stopped on the water again before we pull up to a much larger craft with four older adults on board.
“Do you have any weapons on board,” Thigpen inquires.
Thigpen and Padilla climb onboard and begin a safety check and measuring their lobster. “We’ve been out since 7:30 am,” the captain’s wife goes through the timeline. “We have our limit. 24.”
Padilla and Thigpen measure the carapaces to ensure each is longer than three inches, before they pull over a rental boat taxiing around a visiting family not out lobstering, and a boat of lobster hunters from Panama City.
“Really,” Padilla mentions, “Everyone is compliant on mini-season. They are not surprised to see us out here. We’re helping the Florida Wildlife Conservation. We check for safety. But, if we see a violation then we call the FWC.”
Picking out violators is completely random.
“A brand new boat could have a lot of violations,” Padilla explains. “But the dirtiest old boat you see on the water, could actually be in compliance, so we’re not looking for any certain sign we need to go after someone out here.”
In the first six hours of mini-season, these three Coast Guard men performed 19 inspections, and accounted for 102 lobsters. None of which measured as “shorties.”
Video Extra!!! And we captured some sweet action on video. To see what you’ll have to go though should the Coast Guard pull you over for a safety inspection watch this video.
You can also see the lobster being measured for regulation size.
A morning on the water the first day of mini-season is all it takes for a group from Panama City to stock their boat cooler with their limit of the spiny-tails!
Following a safety check, BM2 Phil Padilla has the task of measuring the lobster. If one isn’t the regulation size of 3 inches, the FWC will be contacted.
Only enough for an appetizer! This Key West boater only netted one bug. MT1 Spencer Thigpen checks it’s size before the men move on to the next boat.
Thigpen and Padilla
As BM2 LaBoy captains the 24 foot SPCSW, MT1 Thigpen and BM2 Padilla work with the public. “The most important aspect of our job during mini-season is making sure everyone is safe on the water,” Thigpen says. “They know we’ll be out here, and we don’t see many violations.”