Mini-Lobster Hunters Give Boost To Keys Economy

A view of the Marathon Key sunset from Sean McDade’s fishing charter’s dock. McDade considers the setting sun a time marker for scouting out lobster harvesting locations. “(The view) is almost as beautiful  as the hunt itself,” he said. Shannon Seibert/WUFT News.

The crisp taste of salty air is a familiar sensation to Florida lobster hunter, Brittany Lakhani.

For the past 10 years, Lakhani has made her way down the state’s coast to Marathon Key to set traps for the clawed critters.

This year, the Gainesville resident joined several other eager hunters in the Florida Keys for the two-day sport season that began July 29 at 12:01 a.m.

“It’s the only two days of the Florida Keys summer season,” Lakhani said. “It’s for recreational lobstering, whereas in regular seasons, it’s both recreational and commercial.”

There are two Florida Lobstering Seasons: the two-day sport season and the eight-month regular season.

The regular season traditionally runs Aug. 6 through March 31.

The sport season can be a lucrative time for private charters. Hotel occupancy increases 4 to 5 percent between the months of June and July, reaching its summer peak during the lobster mini-season, according to The Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.

The numbers for this year’s season have yet to be recorded.

Although the allotted time isn’t lengthy, the two-day span is more than enough for charter boat owner Sean McDade to make a sizable income.

The sport season typically provides a boost for Florida tourism, McDade said. People from different states make the trek down south just for this special occasion.

“People go nuts because it’s sort of a teaser to the regular season,” he said. “For those of us who are experienced, you don’t realize you miss the season until it’s over.”

McDade began taking family and friends on private charters in 2007. Once he realized the profit value, he expanded his business for anyone wanting to get the full lobstering experience.

“Sometimes I joke with my wife Lorin since she didn’t think I’d be getting as much use out of my boat as I do,” McDade said. “So, I’m like, ‘Take that, honey!’”

He said his Contender charter boat is able to carry seven people offshore at a time. As a seasoned man of the sea, he said he enjoys taking people diving on the reefs and scouring the ocean floor for the little mahogany treasures.

“I think the best experience is when someone sees a lobster for the first time,” McDade said. “All of a sudden you hear this high-pitched squealing, and see a bunch of bubbles explode from someone’s snorkel.”

During the sport season, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission standards dictate lobster carapaces, or the hard upper shell, which must measure at least 3 inches to keep the catch. The FWC regulations require the lobster length be measured in the water.

Harvesters are limited to six lobsters a day each if they are hunting in Monroe County or Biscayne National Park; everywhere else in Florida hunters are capped at 12.

Popular lobstering destinations are often flooded with restless harvesters on the hunt for the best catch, according to Mary Anne Barcomb, an FWC representative at the Marathon Key law enforcement branch.

She said a growing concern is the capturing of egg-bearing lobsters.

“The lobster mating season is typically between the middle of April to the beginning of July,” she said.

If lobsters mate toward the end of the regular season, they can still be carrying eggs when the mini-season rolls around.

Different families of lobsters are found in specific areas. Clawed lobsters generally prefer cooler water for mating and maturing. Spiny lobsters, on the other hand, thrive in warmer waters, according to Barcomb.

“The main difference in types of lobsters can be seen by their claws,” she said.

The American lobster, also known as the Maine lobster, has large front pincers while the Florida spiny lobster, also known as the Caribbean spiny lobster, has no pincers at all.

Time of day is key when it comes to catching lobsters.

People are able to keep catches during the day, but night charters may only catch and release the lobsters, Barcomb said.

Lakhani said the best way to go about catching lobsters is by using two people. One person uses a tickle-stick to coax lobsters out from under rocks and guide the lobster into a net.

Once the catch is in the net, the second person brings the crustacean to the surface where it is pulled out wearing special gloves, she said.

During the 2015 mini-season, harvesters were offered an extra “incentive lobster” for the removal of 10 lionfish during their charter. Lakhani said the opportunity will add a little competition to the trip.

“Mini season is always the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, so we rent a condo for a week to do a lot of offshore fishing and lobstering,” Lakhani said. “Somewhere along the way, the trip turned into a family tradition.”

About Shannon Seibert

Shannon is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news

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