Grab your snorkel gear and capitalize on Florida’s readily available fresh seafood, that’s what. Depending on your location around the state, wonderful opportunities abound for harvesting sweet spiny lobster and succulent bay scallops. Both activities offer a great way to beat the heat while spending quality time with family and friends. Oh yeah, a melt-in-your-mouth culinary creation will be your reward at the end of the day.
Florida spiny lobster are a true delicacy, and unlike their clawed cousins to the north the tail is where it’s at. Because these oversized crawfish enjoy the comfort of warm tropical waters, the highest concentrations exist in the fertile Florida Keys. However, spiny lobster inhabit structures around the entire state. Unlike bay scallops, which flee at relatively slow speeds, lobster can escape human predation with relative ease. Although they walk in a forward motion, with a quick flick of their tail they can propel backwards and out of harms way. In South Florida and the Florida Keys, most experienced lobster hunters prowl natural reefs, ledges, grass beds and man-made lobster condos in 5 to 15 feet of water. However, they are certainly found at all depths. Along the Atlantic Coast, scuba divers work offshore reefs and wrecks in 30 to 150 feet. Lobster can also be encountered along the Gulf, although the gradually sloping continental shelf requires harvesters to travel considerable distances to locate promising honey holes. Buggers along the Panhandle can’t expect to catch their limit, but what they lack in quantity they certainly make up for in quality. Searching deep limestone ledges deeper than 80 feet, Panhandlers often bag trophy bugs approaching the coveted 10-pound mark. While you can certainly score no matter where you call home, head south for the best opportunities. Possession limits are strictly enforced both on and off the water so be sure to stay within your legal limits. Mini season opens at 12:00 a.m. July 27 and you know what they say…the early bird gets the worm.
Rules & Regulations
- Open Season: Mini Season July 27 – 28, Regular Season August 6 – March 31
- Limit: Twelve per harvester per day during mini season (excluding Monroe County where it’s six per day). Six per harvester per day during regular season.
- Minimum Size: Carapace not less than 3″ and must be measured in the water.
- License: Florida recreational saltwater fishing license and crawfish permit required.
- Additional Notes: The harvest or possession of egg bearing spiny lobster is illegal, as is the possession of slipper lobster and furry lobster. Harvesting spiny lobster is prohibited in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and no-take areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Be sure to visit myfwc.com for the most up to date rules and regulations.
- Insert lobster tail first into your catch bag to prevent escape and entanglement.
- Wear protective gloves—they’re called spiny lobster for a reason.
- Look for the tips of lobster antenna sticking out from under ledges and coral heads.
Seared, sautéed or baked, you can’t go wrong with fresh bay scallops. These colorful bivalves are easily attainable and highly regarded among the most hard to please seafood aficionados. Found along shallow seagrass beds off the Gulf Coast, bay scallop harvest is highly regulated due to their impressive spawning attributes—an adult scallop can produce more than one million eggs per spawn. While similar in appearance to oysters and clams, scallops differ in the fact that they are active swimmers. While they can expel a jet of water to propel themselves through the water, they can’t exactly flee at high speeds and don’t have precise directional accuracy. No matter your underwater agility you should have no problem scoring some tasty table fare—just make sure you are in legal harvesting waters. Even better, the only equipment needed is snorkel gear and a mesh bag to store your catch.
Northern Gulf scallops prefer the safety afforded by lush seagrass beds and tend to avoid sandy bottoms. They can also be found along patches of brown algae. During peak season and weekends accompanied by pleasant weather and calm sea conditions a fleet of boats will likely be on the best spots. Don’t let this discourage you, as populations of these tasty mollusks have been on the upward trend for the past years and limits are easy to come by. When you find a promising area in 4 to 8 feet of water, make sure to display a divers down flag before getting wet.
Rules & Regulations
- Open Season: June 25 – September 25
- Limit: Two gallons whole or one pint of cleaned meat per harvester per day. No more than 10 gallons whole, or 1/2 gallon of cleaned meat per vessel at anytime.
- License: Florida recreational saltwater fishing license is required.
- Additional Notes: Recreational harvest is allowed only in state waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the Pasco-Hernando County line, to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.
- As the sun’s rays penetrate the shallows, look for scallops on top of seagrass beds.
- Scallops are masters of camouflage. Look for them by searching for cobalt blue eyes on the edge of their shells.
- Scallops seem to prefer manatee grass over turtle grass or shoal grass.