Florida sea-foodies can forgo Maine lobster to instead feast on local, seasonally fresh spiny lobster. The season kicked off in August 2016, following a two-day mini recreational period before commercial traps were placed, and remains open through March. With a saltwater fishing license and lobster/crawfish permit, you can harvest six lobsters per person per day in Monroe County or Biscayne National Park, and 12 per person per day in the rest of the Sunshine State.
Captain Sara Stanczyk, a Keys native and owner of Florida Keys Eco Tour, operates a lobster charter with her 24-foot Pathfinder bay boat departing from Bud N’ Mary’s, a legendary marina on A1A that opened back in 1944.
“Calm, sunny days are best for visibility as lobsters like to hide in rocks, crevasses and coral heads,” says Stanczyk. “They are a community-type of animal, so if you find one, you’re likely to find a group.” Most spots are between 8 and 15 feet deep, so swimmers on the hunt should be comfortable holding their breath to free dive.
Lobstering gear includes a snorkel, flippers and mask; gloves; a net and a “tickle stick,” a thin rod used to gently coax a lobster out of a rock hole. “After the lobster crawls out, it will swim backward, opposite of what you would expect, so you need to have the net positioned behind it,” Stanczyk explains. Novice hunters may have better luck and more fun in partnership, with one diver to tickle and another to net-catch.
Lobsters must be measured in the water and kept only if the carapace (eyes to tail) is larger than 3 inches.
Maine vs. Florida Lobster
American (or Maine) lobsters have large front claws and are often called cold-water lobsters due to their Northern habitat. Florida spiny (or rock) lobsters, considered warm-water crustaceans, are clawless, with long antennae. If you like claw meat, Maine lobster is the way to go. The only edible part of the Florida lobster is its tail, which has a softer-textured meat with a mild, sweet taste.
Seasonal lobstering in Florida is entertaining, and the reward is a fresh catch with easy food prep (no messy fileting)—just twist to separate the tail.
This recipe is a house specialty during Florida lobster season at Garcia’s Seafood Grille in Miami, featured in Good Catch, Recipes & Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida’s Waters by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson (University Press of Florida).
1 spiny Florida lobster tail, shell on
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 cups fresh chopped tomato with juice
2 tablespoons Sazón seasoning
1 teaspoon favorite hot sauce, more to taste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
Coarse salt, to taste
Yellow rice, for serving
Cut lobster tail into 4 pieces with shell intact. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add lobster pieces and sauté 5 minutes, or until mostly cooked through. Remove lobster from pan and keep warm.
In the same pan, add remaining olive oil and sauté peppers and onion over high heat for 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, Sazón seasoning and hot sauce; bring to a simmer and add lobster back to pan. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Season with salt. Serve hot with yellow rice.