Catch the Facts: Know the Rules for Florida Keys Lobster Season
Traditionally, thousands of Keys visitors and residents participate in the spiny lobster season. Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourage repeat and first-time lobster season enthusiasts, residents and seasoned boaters to have an enjoyable, safe and non-impacting experience during the lobster sport season, but emphasize that everyone catch lobsters responsibly while protecting the Florida Keys’ marine ecosystem, and practice vessel and dive safety.
Florida lobster sport season, locally dubbed “mini season" for its short two-day time duration, begins the last Wednesday of July and ends at midnight Thursday. The 2023 regular season begins at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 6, and ends at midnight March 31, 2024.
Before you go, get the right answers to often-asked questions to better understand the rules. "What is legal size? How do I correctly measure? What is the daily limit in the Florida Keys?"
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Capt. David Dipre addresses those questions and other safety tips for the two-day lobster sport season:
Local, state and federal agencies strictly enforce lobster harvest and boating safety regulations. It is important to know that when participating in the lobster season in waters surrounding the Florida Keys, daily limits in the Florida Keys and Biscayne National Park differ from those in other parts of Florida.
Best Practices for Safety & Success
1. Measure each lobster correctly, and measure while still in the water. Carapace (hard part of shell) must measure greater than three inches!
2. Use the dive flag. Put it UP when diving, and take it DOWN when underway. Divers must stay within 300 feet of their dive flag (or 100 feet if in a channel).
3. Six means six! Limit is six lobsters per person, per day, ALL day in Monroe County. No double-dipping trips.
4. It is a felony to damage, molest or take lobster from traps in state or federal waters. Recreational trapping is prohibited.
5. Check and replenish ALL necessary boat safety gear.
6. Idle speed when within 100 yards of a boat displaying a dive flag.
7. It is prohibited to touch coral, bump corals with dive fins, stand on coral and/or anchor your boat on coral.
Know Before You Go
First, get your recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit (required!).
Local ordinances WITHIN the Florida Keys (Monroe County) vary, depending on location. It is important to understand the facts for all seasons.
Understanding the latest lobster-catching rules and regulations is critical. Ignoring them can often result in citations on the water from FWC officers or other law enforcement personnel.
Harvesting in Florida Keys Local Waters: When and Where?
During the July two-day sport season, and regular lobster season (Aug. 6 - March 31), NO snorkeling or diving is allowed within 300 feet of residential or commercial shoreline allowed. This includes canals and any public or private marinas. Night diving, defined as one hour after sunset and one hour prior to sunrise, is prohibited during the two-day sport season.
In Marathon, this local rule applies during the the two-day sport season.
In Key Colony Beach, this local rule applies during the four days preceding sport season and continues until 10 days have elapsed after the opening of regular season.
In unincorporated areas of Monroe County, Layton, Islamorada and Key West this local rule applies during the three days preceding sport season, the entirety of sport season and the first five days of regular season.
Certain Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary zones called Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Ecological Reserves and Special-use Research Only Areas are CLOSED YEAR-ROUND for harvesting and are NO-TAKE ZONES. These areas are marked by yellow boundary buoys. New Coral Reef Protection Areas within Biscayne National Park went into effect in 2020, closing all harvest of lobster in five areas. Visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bnp
View Current Regulations for Recreational Harvest in Monroe County
It is prohibited to discard lobster and fish carcasses in Keys canals, as they can quickly decompose and affect the healthy ecosystem. Please dispose of this organic matter in a tightly sealed trash bag or receptacle.
Before You Arrive and Dive
Take the initiative to be a safe diver. The challenge, marine-related officials say, is that in divers’ enthusiasm to catch the tasty Florida spiny lobster, many either forget or neglect to exercise proper and simple scuba diving safety measures. Failure to do so can result in diving accidents, and sometimes those mishaps can be catastrophic.
Scuba diving experts advise that divers should be in good physical health and make sure their boating and dive gear have been verified to be in good working order before submerging.
Accidents occur in shallow water with divers forgetting very basic skills. Most are preventable if divers review or “refresh” skills and check to make sure their equipment functions properly.
Individuals should hone their lobster-catching skills, including tickling techniques, safe-boating skills, dive flag use, proper lobster gauging, gear demos, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary rules and how to avoid the bends and/or shallow water blackout.
Boating Safety in the Florida Keys
Boating in the Florida Keys can be complicated, especially for first-time visitors navigating shallow island waters. Disturbance and direct impacts include damage by boat propellers and groundings. Practice good seamanship and safe boating.
One of the Keys' most precious natural ecosystems is the coral reef that parallels the island chain — the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. Please, DO NOT ANCHOR ON CORAL. Use a mooring buoy or if you must set an anchor, find a sandy bottom.
How do you use a mooring buoy? Where are the public boat ramps? How do you avoid running aground? Educate yourself to protect the Keys for future generations.
Take a FREE ONLINE BOATING COURSE that provides information for responsible boating and stewardship, and highlights relevant rules and regulations, provided by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Learn what to do if you ground in seagrass; where the backcountry is and how to navigate it; how to understand vessel regulations in Wildlife Management Areas; where to safely anchor, and more.
Watch these brief videos for responsibly engaging with Florida Keys marine resources while enjoying recreational boating and diving activities in the Florida Keys:
Marine Sanctuary Explorer is your official guide to the protected waters of the Florida Keys, home to the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States. Allow the app to access your location and the interactive map will alert you to nearby points of interest, with push notifications outlining regulations for each marine zone you enter. Browse the library, where you can learn about plants and animals you'll observe as you discover the wonders of the sanctuary, and access guidelines that explain how to interact with marine wildlife and habitats safely.
Fishing Regulations Made Easy
Fish Rules App simplifies saltwater and freshwater fishing regulations into an easy-to-understand format (although the app does not include closed zones, so be aware of any closed zones in the areas you are fishing).
With a glance, know if a fish is in season, how many you can keep, how big they have to be, and more. Download the free app through Google Play or the App store.
If a lobster is too small, it must not be harvested. Carapace (hard part of shell) MUST measure GREATER THAN three inches to be legal size.
Divers are encouraged to check their gear ahead of time to ensure its functionality and refresh their diving skills.
Sanctuary Preservation Areas within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are marked by yellow buoys.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, as well as other local and federal authorities, strictly enforce Keys lobster regulations and promote safe boating practices.