FWC urges safety for divers during lobster miniseason

Absenteeism may be higher than usual at South Florida workplaces Wednesday and Thursday because of the annual dive derby known as lobster miniseason.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, thousands of scuba divers, snorkelers and bully netters will be trying to catch a limit of bugs before the season closes at midnight Thursday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is urging them to stay safe and not abuse the resource.

“No lobster is worth your life,” FWC spokesman Jorge Pino said at a news conference Tuesday at agency headquarters in North Miami.

Pino ran down a miniseason checklist: Inspect your boat for the proper safety equipment; make sure your dive equipment is in good working order; know the lobster rules and regulations before you go; file a float plan letting family and friends know where you are going and when you expect to return, and don’t dive alone or beyond your personal limits.

“Unfortunately, every year, we have one or maybe two people who lose their lives as a result of chasing that lobster,” Pino said. “People don’t understand the rigors of harvesting lobsters. If you are tired, leave the lobster alone. Publix is right down the corner. Winn-Dixie is right down the corner.”

Pino said FWC officers will be patrolling in boats, diving undercover alongside lobster hunters, and deploying lobster-sniffing dogs at boat ramps. He said his agency will be assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as Miami-Dade Police and Fire Rescue and the city of Miami.

Besides checking boats for lobster and safety violations, Pino said officers also will be on the lookout for skippers boating under the influence.

“Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to consume alcohol and get drunk and drive a vessel,” he said.

Despite the FWC’s stern warnings, lobster hunters began breaking the law before the season even opened.

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At Tuesday’s news conference, Pino stood before a table full of lobsters confiscated from divers who jumped the gun.

“They see that lobster and can’t resist themselves and take that lobster,” he said. “You may get away with it once, but I guarantee you our officers are at the ready. We will find you.”

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