Get Prepared for Low-Impact Lobstering

July 2016

Egg-bearing lobster with bright orange eggs under carapace. All egg-bearing female lobsters must be released regardless of size. Photo by FWC/Amy Buck.

Lobster season is one of the busiest times in the Florida Keys, as thousands of visitors and residents hit the waters in search of one of their favorite delicacies, the Florida spiny lobster. With smart choices, you can lower your impact on sensitive coral reefs, plus other natural resources, that you are here to enjoy.

Start by learning lobster regulations for the Florida Keys. You'll find thsese in the Monroe County lobster brochure. Knowing the fishery rules will help ensure sustainable harvests into the future. Next, be safe on the water and practice respect not only for fellow boaters and divers, but also the coral reefs and habitats that lobsters call home.

To catch lobster, you must:

  • hold a valid Florida saltwater fishing license and lobster permit to harvest lobster;
  • release all female lobsters bearing eggs (usually bright orange) on the underside of their carapace, regardless of size; and,
  • do not harvest lobster without first using a lobster gauge to confirm its carapace is greater than three inches long.

For your own safety, and the safety of those with you, you should also:

  • check your vessel's safety gear and familiarize yourself with the local waters where you plan to boat
  • follow good reef etiquette. Absolutely NO touching or bumping coral!
  • service your dive gear, practice your dive skills, and plan your dives.

Risks and Hazards of Lobster Diving

Diving for lobster can be hazardous. The Florida lobster mini-season is the largest two-day recreational diving event in the world, and sees an average of two fatalities each year. Many more divers end up in the ER or suffer non-life-threatening injuries. So what hazards should divers prepare for during this event? Divers Alert Network (DAN) is hosting many informational sessions throughout the Keys on how to prepare for mini-season. See the Calendar of Events for dates and times.

Measuring a lobster carapace with yellow gauge. Florida regulations state that the spiny lobster carapace must be greater than 3". Photo by FWC.

Ask the Experts!

Learn more at these lobster information booths, hosted by knowledgeable FWC enforcement officers and sanctuary staff, who can answer questions and explain changes to this year's regulations:

  • Lobster Palooza
    July 26 -- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Bahia Honda State Park.
  • Upper Keys Lobster Info Booth
    July 23 - 26
    Key Largo Divers Direct (Mile Marker 99.6)​.

Statewide Lionfish Challenge Incentive

To encourage divers to remove lionfish prior to the 2016 lobster sport season (a.k.a. mini-season), The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is allowing one extra lobster per person per day in addition to the daily bag limit for anyone who has qualified for the Lionfish Challenge prior to mini-season (July 27-28, 2016). To qualify, you must have submitted proof of harvesting 50 or more lionfish during the Statewide Lionfish Challenge prior to the 2016 spiny lobster sport season only. During mini-season, you must have your Statewide Lionfish Challenge commemorative coin on you as proof of eligibility.


Florida Spiny Lobster Fun Facts

The Florida spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, is also known locally as crawfish, "bugs", or langosta (Spanish). Lobster bodies have two main segments: its head section, covered by a carapace, and an abdomen, or tail section. Unlike its northern cousin, the American lobster, it lacks large claws. The "spiny" in its name refers to a set of forward curving hard spines that cover its hard outer shell (the exoskeleton). Its colors vary from whitish to dark red-orange, and two large cream colored spots at the top of the second tail segment are an identifying feature of this species. Often, the first feature that you will spot in the water are two long, thick, antennae with spines that emerge below its eyes. Below these are two small sensory antennules.

Common in Florida Keys and found from Brazil to North Carolina, the spiny lobster lives in rock, coral reefs, seagrass beds and hardbottom habitats through the tropical and subtropical waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean. It feeds on crabs, shrimp, snails, clams, and other crustaceans and mollusks. Lobsters tend to congregate in crevices to avoid their predators, which include the common octopus, loggerhead turtle, blue crab, nurse shark, Southern stingray, and reef fishes such as grouper, snapper, and triggerfish.


Lobster reach maturity and start reproducing at three years of age. The females carry the eggs on their abdomen (underside of the tail) where they are fertilized externally. Spawning takes place between March and August in waters that are 73º F or warmer. Fertilized eggs incubate for three weeks, during which their orange color deepens to dark brown. Newly hatched lobsters are small larvae that drift thousands of miles on ocean currents for the first six to nine months. Once settled into a suitable habitat, the larva grows and molts into a juvenile. Although large female lobsters can spawn two to three times a year and produce up to a million eggs, as few as one egg, on average, might survive to adulthood.

Growth Rate

It takes approximately three years for a lobster carapace to reach three inches. They can grow to over 15 lbs. and live more than 20 years. Male lobsters typically grow faster than females.

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