The annual spiny lobster season opens Thursday, when commercial trappers can start pulling traps from the water and divers and recreational fishers can start grabbing the crustaceans.
"We never know what's going to happen until they make those first pulls and we see what the market's going to bear," said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association.
"We’re always optimistic. Do I have a number I can throw on the table? Not really. We’re seeing a real uptick in the U.S. economy," Kelly said. "We’ve seen a few hiccups in the Chinese economy. But I don’t think it’s anything that would disrupt – they have this seemingly insatiable appetite for spiny lobster."
Reports from the two-day recreational mini-season last month indicate there are plenty of lobster in the water, Kelly said. Last year was "typical," with about 5.2 million pounds harvested.
Lobster is the most valuable commercial fishery in Florida, with landings estimated at $55 to $60 million. Almost 90 percent of that is in the Keys, Kelly said.
Thursday is also the start of the recreational lobster season. Lobster season ends March 31.
For those who don't want to catch — or cook — their own lobster, Key West is celebrating the start of the season with its annual Lobsterfest, which includes restaurant events and a street fair on Saturday.