4 DEATHS & MULTIPLE ARRESTS DURING WEEK OF LOBSTER MINI-SEASON IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

A lobster is measured during a vessel stop.

Issuance of warnings, citations and some advice were among several steps Monroe County Sheriff’s marine deputy Nelson Sanchez took during the start of a two-day lobster mini-season in the Upper Keys on July 27. In the Lower Keys, law enforcement said two men died while on the water on the first day. 

Even before lobster mini-season, law enforcement reported two separate on-the-water incidents this week that resulted in the deaths of a 53-year-old man and 27-year-old man. 

The sheriff’s office reported two deaths that occured in the Lower Keys on July 27. A 51-year-old Tampa man died after losing consciousness in the water Wednesday just north of Key West. The incident happened around 12:30 p.m. after the man was reported unresponsive in the water near Bluefish Channel. CPR was initiated on the man and continued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The man was pronounced dead at Lower Keys Medical center. An investigation is ongoing and autopsy results are pending. 

A 64-year old Garland, Texas man died on July 27 after collapsing in a boat on the gulfside just north of MM 3. The sheriff’s office said Gregg Leon Dietz was standing in a 32-foot rental vessel when he collapsed around 12:30 p.m. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation officers took Dietz to the U.S. Coast Guard Station Key West. He was transported to Lower Keys Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. An investigation is ongoing and autopsy results are pending. 

Less than ideal conditions on the oceanside of the Upper Keys pushed a majority of boats to the bayside during the first day of lobster mini-season. Lobster hunters packed the waters just beyond Plantation Yacht Harbor and around Channel 2 Bridge in Islamorada. 

“I’ve never seen so many boats out here,” said Pastor Tony Hammon as he came into Plantation Yacht Harbor marina from a successful lobster trip with his grandson, Sawyer. 

In the Upper Keys, morning stops by Sanchez and Sam Lapinsky, reserve deputy who spent 15 years with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, came with some education on the rules, including the need for a diver-down flag when diving and measuring lobster while in the water, not on the boat.

But one stop by Sanchez led to citations against some Georgia men fishing near Indian Key Fill. Sanchez spotted some lobster hunters under the bridge when he noticed two undersized lobsters in a bag. He directed three men back to the boat where three other men were hanging out.

A search of the boat well found that of 30 lobsters, 12 were undersized. Sanchez told the group a large number were “grossly undersized.” 

“The law states you must measure them in the water. You can’t put them on your boat and then measure them. That’s not how it works.”

Catching undersized lobster is a misdemeanor. Three men will come back in August to face the judge. 

“You guys gotta play by the rules,” Sanchez said. “I don’t like all this paperwork, and I’ve got more that I have to do after this.”

The sheriff’s office made 600 vessel stops/resource/safety inspections during the two-day lobster mini-season. Of those, four arrests were made for wildlife violations and one for tampering with evidence. Eighteen mandatory notices to appear in court citations were issued. Figures do not include less serious violations/citations/warnings issued on the water and land.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission issued several resource tickets. 

“It’s been steady, lots of stops,” said Jason Rafter, FWC public information officer, on the first day. 

On July 29, FWC reported the arrest of four individuals in Marathon for size and bag limit violations during the first day of the lobster mini-season. While on routine patrol, Lt. Paul Hein responded to a dispatched complaint at the Sun Outdoors RV Resort in Marathon. As Hein arrived at the resort, he observed a vessel at the dock being rinsed, several individuals around a nearby cleaning table, and a large number of spiny lobster on the cleaning table. 

Hein approached the subjects and conducted a resource inspection. The four individuals had 37 spiny lobsters on the cleaning table, which is 13 over the legal bag limit for four licensed harvesters. Twenty four of the 37 lobsters were less than the required minimum size limit of 3 inches. 

Upon questioning, the individuals showed him more spiny lobster they had caught earlier that day, bringing the total short lobster to 27. All four subjects, two men and two women, were taken to the Monroe County Jail and charged accordingly, FWC said.

Undersized lobsters FWC Lt. Paul Hein discovered on four individuals at Sun Outdoors RV Resort in Marathon. FWC/Contributed

Before the two-day lobster sport season even began, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation reported on July 25 that they were checking two vessels near Stock Island when an officer was advised that a snorkeler hadn’t surfaced. Search efforts were initiated by FWC units and aircraft and the Coast Guard and went several hours before they recovered the body of a 27-year-old man from Port Orange, Florida. FWC said preliminary information indicated head trauma from a possible vessel strike. FWC has asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an investigation since a FWC boat was near the scene at the time the accident occurred.

On July 26, a 53-year-old Englewood, Florida man died during a snorkel trip in the Lower Keys. According to the sheriff’s office, Kale Dailey was snorkeling in Sawyer Channel with a group around 11:24 a.m. when he told others he wasn’t feeling well. He returned to the vessel, but his conditions worsened as others helped him onto the boat.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded and brought Dailey ashore to Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key. Dailey was pronounced dead at the scene. The sheriff’s office said foul play is not expected to be a factor. The investigation is ongoing and autopsy results are pending.

The two-day lobster mini season concluded Thursday, July 28 at midnight. Commercial lobster season begins Aug. 6.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).