Mini Lobster Season (and heck, any good day on a fishing boat) can bring out the enthusiastic, and careless, kid in us. But safe practices mean a happy and healthy ocean. Nicole Uibel, a program coordinator at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary who manages the Blue Star Fishing program, has worked on the sanctuary’s boater education course. Uibel and the Blue Star Fishing guides are experts on how to fish and lobster responsibly. Here are her Dos and Don’ts for a day on the water.

Do: Outsmart the lobster. “They use their antennae as sensory mechanisms,” says Uibel, “so one way to lure a lobster out of a hole is with a ‘tickle stick.’” Tickle the lobster’s antennae, and pull back — she’ll be curious and come out to investigate. It’s much less invasive than pulling them out. 

Don’t overturn coral heads. “Some peoples’ enthusiasm outweighs their sense of responsibility. Coral is so fragile,” she says. Look out for your flippers, and don’t reach out and grab the coral with your hands to pursue a fleeing lobster.

Do: Take a boater education course through Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary or another outlet. “The course is about how to avoid damage to the Keys.” She also recommends a location-specific course, to get to know the depth and terrain.

Don’t accidentally cross into preservation areas that are “no touch, no take, no collecting, no possession.” Sanctuary areas are marked by yellow buoys. And remember that “no possession” means you can’t lobster elsewhere and then stop by Looe Key to go snorkeling — you could get a fine.

Do know the draft of your vessel and the ebb and flow of the tides.

Don’t blast out of seagrass! If you get stuck, stop, turn off your engine, and try to push out to deeper water before turning it back on. “If you are really stuck, reach for the radio before you reach a throttle,” she says. A tow boat is less expensive than the ticket you could get, and it won’t further hurt the seagrass.

Do catch what you can cook. Enjoy all that lobster and mahi within the legal limits — just be sure you have the appetite or the freezer for it.

Don’t take all that you can get. “You don’t need to catch ten dolphin if you’re staying in a hotel and just want dinner,” says Uibel.“The question should be ‘what do I need’ not ‘how much can I take?’” 

Do: Designate a driver. Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Don’t forget to have fun!

Blue star recognized Charter guides:

• 3rd Alarm Fishing –Islamorada, FL
• One Love Sportfishing – Islamorada, FL
• A Fishing Guide – Islamorada, FL
• Boneafide Charters – Little Torch Key, FL
• Doghouse Sportfishing Charters – Islamorada, FL
• Double Haul Charters – Summerland Key, FL
• First Choice Charters – Islamorada, FL
• Flying Fish Charters – Key West, FL
• Forever Young Charter Company – Islamorada, FL
• Mile Marker 27 Fishing Charters – Ramrod Key, FL
• Rusty’s Bucket Charters – Key West, FL
• World Angling – Sugarloaf Key, FL
• Yabba Dabba Doo! Charters – Islamorada, FL

More information on sanctuary regulations, marine zones, and a free, sanctuary-specific boater education course are available at 

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Sarah Thomas is the Editor of Key West Weekly and moved down from her second-favorite island, Manhattan. She has worn many hats: publicist, tour guide, bartender, teacher, and cat wrangler, but this one seems to fit the best.