As you are probably reading this, thousands of divers, snorkelers, and those with a death wish are currently frolicking about the waters of the Florida Keys in search of lobsters. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the Mini Lobster Season once again. But despite the millions of dollars that will drop into the coffers of the Keys, there is a not so wonderful side to this annual event.
The ecosystem in the Keys is in bad shape. Years of overfishing, over boating, and neglect have put a real hurting on the reefs, grassy flats, mangroves, and species that used to thrive down here. Visibility on the reefs, that’s how far you can see underwater, has been severely reduced over the years. Corals have been taking a beating and they don’t come back very quickly, if at all.
The overfishing is the worst. I see a lot of the charter boats come back in with catches of fish that barely qualified as bait back in Hemingway’s days. Closed seasons, size and catch limits and restricted areas help but every time a new restriction is put in place, the sport and commercial fishing lobbies howl bloody murder. You can’t blame them to a certain extent. Marine fuel costs well over $5 a gallon. Boats are maintenance heavy critters, and if you have a crew, they like to be paid too. Commercial fishing and charters are a tough enough business as it is. But still, the pressure on the water resources of the Keys is tremendous. And then comes another Mini Season.
The original intent of Mini Season was to allow the average idiot to be able to go out and catch a few lobsters before the commercial people set out their traps. Mini Season is only 2 days, always a Wednesday and Thursday around the third week of July, and there are many restrictions on how many lobsters you can take, how you can take them, and how big they must be. For the FWC, Sheriff’s Dept., and other law enforcement agencies, Mini Season means long hours on and off the water, inspecting catches, checking boats for legal equipment, catching the poachers, and stopping the drunk boaters. They are on the water, going from boat to boat, sometimes jumping in the water to dive with the lobster hunters, inspecting catches at boat ramps, and on the road. It’s about guaranteed you will find a story or two about somebody getting caught with several hundred lobsters. In fact a few poachers have already been nabbed. But, it’s tough work, and you can’t catch everyone.
Then there are the people themselves. The lobster mobsters as they are known locally. For many this is a vacation. They have saved all year to come down here, catch some lobsters, and have a party…and they will party. While it may not be true of all lobster mobsters, more than a few of them turn into obnoxious drunken fools when they hit the islands. You hear a few stories of neighbors fed up with renters next door who party all night with loud music, trash the property, leave dead lobster carcasses to rot in the sun or in the canals, get drunk, fight, and make us all very happy when they leave.
On the water it is worse. Few can handle their boats properly, and fewer still know and understand the waters. They will run into no motor zones, tear up grass flats, drop and drag anchors over coral heads, and not care a lick about the damage they cause. It’s vacation time dammit, and a few whiny ass environmental sissies ain’t gonna spoil their fun, nosireee.
But we put up with all the bad, because a few million dollars in our pockets makes it all better, at least from a financial standpoint. It’s the price we pay for living here in a tourist oriented economy.
There has been occasional calls to end the Mini Season altogether. For many of the reasons I just listed. Give the reef system a breather. Let some species get built back up again. But it ain’t gonna end anytime soon. Unless some really high profile environmental disaster befalls someone, MIni Season will continue. The reefs will suffer, along with the other eco systems down here. Lobster will get harder to find. More poaching will happen. But our bank accounts will swell.
Well, my bank account won’t. They say each tourist dollar gets spent here 7 times before it leaves the Keys. I am on the eighth level.