I

f you ever want a conversation to get heated on a community Facebook page, lob out this question: “Hey, do you think we should have lobster mini-season?” Then buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Keys Weekly did a search on “lobster mini-season” on a local Facebook page, and we saw a post that said, “I just want to remind people that mini-lobster season is not for taking small lobster.”

Commenters responded, “I wish they would do away with mini-lobster season,” and “We never go out for mini stupid season. I hide. Too many amateurs on the water with no regard to safety.”

Also: “I say close mini-season down so the local fishermen actually have a chance this year.”

Due to the event’s consistent controversy, Monroe County Mayor and Commissioner Michelle Coldiron and Marathon City Councilman John Bartus spearheaded a lobster mini-season task force via Zoom on March 8. The discussion was about making rules and regulations more uniform countywide and therefore mitigating the impact of the event. 

On April 21, Coldiron was scheduled to present the task force’s findings to the Board of County Commissioners. (However, as of press time, she had not been able to present and discuss the topic during a packed meeting.)

“This update is because we are trying to see what we can do to make lobster mini-season safer for the environment and the residents,” Coldiron told Keys Weekly. “It is in no way for us to cancel it. During COVID, it all came to a head, with many wanting to cancel the lobster mini-season. And we couldn’t. It’s controlled by FWC.” 

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Canceling mini-season is not an option, so, Coldiron said, the March 8 task force came up with several long- and short-term solutions to make the annual event go more smoothly.

The 31 attendees were representatives from local municipalities and stakeholder groups and included: Roman Gastesi, Monroe County administrator; Major Chad Scibilia, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office; Teri Johnston, Key West mayor; George Garrett, Marathon city manager; Ron Sutton, mayor of Key Colony Beach; Andy Newman, Tourist Development Council public relations; Bill Kelly, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association; CJ Sweetman, FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management; John Hunt, FWC program administrator; Michael Goldberg, owner of Key Dives; Mark Gregg, Village of Islamorada councilman; Lt. Kathleen McKinney, Florida Highway Patrol; Elizabeth Moscynski, director of Key Largo Chamber of Commerce; and many more.

Coldiron said the biggest complaints about mini-season from her residents are the crowds and the garbage on the side of the roads and in nearshore waters. Some short-term solutions to address this: portable restrooms, garbage receptacles and help from transportation officials to manage the activities and number of visitors who pull off on the side of Overseas Highway or crowd boat ramps.

Bartus was impressed with the ideas from the staff of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, which included having an English-language and a Spanish-language multi-media campaign to create greater awareness of rules in the county in conjunction with the task force and law enforcement agencies.

Coldiron and Bartus said longer-term goals include asking FDOT to put dynamic signs on the side of the road with similar messages about rules and working with the FWC to create a tag system for the six lobsters that are allowed per person.

Another potential idea: unifying the rules through the county. At present, different rules exist in different municipalities on when/where swimmers are allowed to snorkel within the residential shorelines, and the volunteer law enforcement who help during mini-season may not be familiar with the different rules.

And the Facebook comment mentioned above, “I say close mini-season down so the local fisherman actually have a chance this year,” implies that residents are worried that the lobster taken during the mini-season depletes the population and ruins the catch for commercial fisherman.

Coldiron asked experts including John Hunt, FWC program administrator, if mini-season affects the spiny lobster population for commercial fishermen. “The scientists said it is not negatively impacting the real season,” she said.

So why is the FWC so adamant about mini-season anyway? Per a 1992 sun-sentinel.com article: “The mini-season began about 10 years ago to give sport divers a chance to catch lobster before commercial fishermen deploy their lobster traps.”

“There have been so many problems in the past prior to mini-season,” FWC Captain David Dipre said. “The state said there’s a ‘user conflict.’ (The fishermen) put their private property in front of everybody, and that property is vandalized. So the state said, ‘Give the recreational guys a shot, and give six per person per day.’ Then in that way, you won’t have user conflict. I don’t want the commercial fishermen to see that and feel that they have to take action on that. Let’s keep the recreational season separate from the commercial season.”

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