By late last week, people and boats were already trickling in to the Florida Keys for the lobster sport mini-season.
They were getting ready for the two-day event, taking place Wednesday and Thursday, when recreational divers get a jump on catching the tasty crustaceans. The regular lobster season, when commercial fishermen can start bringing in their catch, starts Aug. 6.
The state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates more than 59,000 people take part in the mini-season — more than half of them in the Florida Keys. Because of that, and because the rules are tougher in the Keys than anywhere else, law enforcement will be busy.
That includes FWC, as well as officers from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. They'll be on boats and on some borrowed Wave Runners, making sure people are obeying size and catch limits, said Deputy Becky Herrin. And the enforcement doesn't end at the high tide line.
"In addition to that, we're going to have officers — both road patrol and some of our detectives — out checking boat ramps to make sure people are complying there as well," she said.
Herrin said visitors to the Keys should be especially careful this year to lock up their gear overnight. The Keys have recently seen a rash of marine equipment thefts.
"You leave your electronic equipment on your boat or your fishing rods and your dive equipment and you might come out in the morning and find that it's gone," Herrin said.
The Keys have special rules for mini-season. While the statewide catch limit is 12 per person per day, in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park, it's six. No harvesting is allowed in Pennekamp State Park during mini-season. And some local areas of the Keys have special rules.
One rule that's new this year and applies everywhere: If you catch 10 lionfish, you get to take home an extra lobster.