As an uneventful lobster mini-season came to a close, commercial lobster fishermen remained optimistic about the start of the regular season on Aug. 6. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Coast Guard did not report any accidents, injuries or deaths as of Thursday evening. The FWC did cite multiple people diving on illegal habitat called lobster casitas off Key West on Wednesday. The FWC did not have details on the number of divers cited or the exact details.
FWC officers also arrested a father and his two sons on Wednesday for exceeding the daily bag limit by 28 lobsters, FWC spokesman Bobby Dube said. The FWC arrested Steven Koeppel, 55, of Fort Myers, on suspicion of exceeding the daily bag limit, not having a saltwater fishing license and no lobster stamp. John Koeppel, 24, and Kyle Koeppel, 22, also of Fort Myers were arrested on suspicion of exceeding the daily bag limit, Dube said. The men can face a fine of more than $100 per lobster, Dube said. FWC officers stopped and boarded the Koeppel family’s 25-foot vessel off Islamorada. During the vessel stop, the officers noticed the father and his sons were acting “very nervous as officers were checking their catch,” Dube said. The captain showed officers the allowed limit of 18 lobsters in his possession but after a thorough search of the vessel, officers found a stash of lobsters located in a hidden compartment under the deck of the boat, Dube said. Officers found the additional 28 lobsters in the compartment and the father and sons were arrested and transported to the Monroe County Jail. Their vessel was towed to shore by Sea Tow, Dube said.Divers and commercial fishermen will take to the waters Aug. 6 for the start of regular spiny lobster season.
Citing preliminary surveys of known lobster congregations, commercial fishermen are cautiously optimistic about the season, they said. “It doesn’t look quite as good as last year,” Conch Key-based commercial fishermen Gary Nichols said. “We’ll find out soon enough. The fishermen I talked to seem very optimistic. There were a lot of reports of seeing lobster on the Gulf (of Mexico) side. The ocean side in Hawks Channel did not look all that encouraging. Everyone who dove around the bridges did well.”
Fellow trap fisherman George Niles said that the fishermen he talked to reported seeing good populations of lobster on both sides of the Florida Keys.Nichols questioned whether the prices would be as good as last season. Commercial fishermen have seen a huge price surge in the past several years, as the Asian market has exploded. Commercial fishermen were paid as much as $19 a pound for lobster last year. Prior to the Asian interest, fishermen were paid more in the $7- to $10-a-pound range.However, the Chinese and others have begun to purchase a considerable amount of Maine lobster, which could impact prices paid for Florida spiny lobster, Nichols said. “The market has been good for a couple of years, but I don’t think the prices will be as high this year,” Nichols said. The lobster season runs from Aug. 6 through March 31.