While home to many outdoor and water activities, lobstering in Florida is one of the most popular activities each year in the waters surrounding the sunshine state. Lobstering in Florida typically centers around the miniseason dates of late July as well as the full lobster season of August 6 through March 31. Lobstering is especially popular as a recreational activity in the Florida Keys.
While lobsters do exist in the waters off north and central Florida, most recreational lobstering tends to occur in the waters off southeast Florida and especially around the Florida Keys. The shallow reefs around the Florida Keys make ideal lobster hunting grounds since lobsters tend to hide out in such areas. These grounds are also easily accessible to the public. Moreover, the year-round warm waters make it an ideal habitat for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster to thrive.
Due to the increased lobstering activity by the recreational public in the waters around the Florida Keys, the lobsters tend to be smaller. If you go lobstering in less accessible, deeper water, you can find larger lobsters simply due to the lower amount of fishing pressure in these parts.
The Florida Keys are also a huge draw during lobster season because of the variation found in a single geographical area. On the gulf side of the Florida Keys, you’ll find the more family-friendly areas where you can free dive in shallow waters of 5-10 feet. Or if you’re more experienced (and you have more gear), you might consider the Atlantic side where you can find deeper waters for breaking out the scuba gear. Lobstering is available throughout the Florida Keys, but make sure to check local rules and regulations as some areas are off limits.
Southeast Florida is also a popular destination for lobstering as reefs that are common near the shoreline make for great places for lobsters to hide. This is in contrast to Southwest Florida with its sandy bottoms that stretch for miles offshore. To get lobsters off of Naples, for example, typically hunters may go 50 miles offshore in order to reach deeper waters.
Since lobsters move around quite a bit, a hot spot for harvesting this year might be a complete dud the next year. Weather, currents and the presence of other wildlife can cause lobsters to vacate an area and migrate elsewhere. If you’ve got a favorite lobster hole marked on your GPS, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be a hit next season.
It’s common to compare the warm water lobsters found in and around Florida to the popular Maine lobster. The most obvious difference is that the lobsters in Florida (and the Caribbean) do not have claws like the Maine lobster. The “rock lobster” or the “spiny lobster” is also typically not as sweet as the Maine lobster. Typically the lobsters in Maine are larger due to the cold water and the strict regulations around fishing.
Most importantly, Florida lobstering means recreational lobstering is permitted during the designated seasons. Due to the importance of lobstering as a commercial industry in Maine, recreational lobstering is quite limited and restricted to residents of Maine.
The lobster miniseason takes place each year during the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July. The regular season takes place each year from August 6 - March 31.
The miniseason (sometimes called the “sport season”) is a more intense and crowded experience. The two day event provides recreational harvesting before the commercial fisherman go on the hunt. Due to the popularity and the short, two-day window, lobstering fanatics go early and fast to their favorite lobster holes in order to get their fill before others arrive. The miniseason is fun, thrilling and a can’t-miss event for die-hard lobster fanatics.
If you want a more relaxed experience, opt for the regular season which begins in August and stretches through March.
To harvest lobsters in Florida, you will need the recreational saltwater fishing license as well as a spiny lobster permit. Getting the lobster permit is easy and inexpensive.
There are other important regulations of which you should be familiar including the limit of six lobsters per person, per day and rules requiring the harvesting of lobsters whole and without a device that could puncture the lobster. Be sure to review the full list of regulations from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Lobstering is a very accessible activity and participation is possible in just about any type of boat. During the miniseason when the masses descend upon the Florida Keys, most people are using typical center console boats. Larger boats can work, but due to the shallow waters, you might be limited due to draft.
Boating from various Florida west coast locales down to the Florida Keys is a popular option. Typically we would recommend this approach if you have a boat that is at least 30 feet in length as crossing Florida Bay can have some rougher conditions. If you have a smaller, more easily trailerable boat, then driving probably makes more sense.
Again, lobstering is super accessible. To get started, all that is necessary is a net, stick and a mask. You can often find simple lobster kits which provide a kit that includes all of these essential items. Regulations also require a dive flag in order to let others know where you are in the water as well as a measuring device.
Florida regulations state that the carapace of the lobster must measure at least three inches, so it is common to have a measuring device handy at all times (perhaps attach it to your wrist).
Other items to consider include a lobster bag to attach around your waist to store your catch, gloves to protect your hands from spines of lobsters and sharp rocks and of course your typical dive gear such as fins and snorkel.
While you can find lobster offshore around the state, the Florida Keys and Southeast Florida offer the most accessible areas for recreational lobstering due to shallow waters that contain lobsters. Elsewhere around the state, you have to go many miles offshore typically to deeper waters to find lobster.
The lobster miniseason takes place each year the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July, and the regular season is from August 6 to March 31. The miniseason can be crowded in places like Monroe County (Florida Keys).
The Caribbean spiny lobster are found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and off the coast in southern Florida. They are commonly harvested during lobster season.