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Lobster divers ready for season “That’s a non-factor at this point,” said Jeff Torode, the president of South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach, who has at least two miniseason trips a day planned for two of his three boats. There have been calls from out-of-town divers wondering if the oil spill would affect miniseason but, as Coulter said, “We tell them there’s no oil here. Some callers were going to dive in the Gulf and now they’re coming here.” For most of the estimated 30,000 divers who will be hunting lobsters this week, the miniseason is an annual ritual. Even factoring in the cost of gas, equipment and time off from work, it’s an event some wouldn’t dream of missing. “I love it,” said Clint Bridges, of Plantation, who always goes diving during miniseason, yet hardly ever goes during the regular season. Although it’s usually cheaper to buy lobsters when the regular season opens as opposed to diving for them during the miniseason, Bridges enjoys the thrill of catching his own dinner. He said he and his friends have some spots off Miami Beach where they routinely get their 12-lobster-per-person miniseason limit, which is twice the regular-season limit. Bridges and his buddies plan to dive there Wednesday and Thursday. He said not going because of the oil spill was never a consideration. “I was thinking that it wouldn’t even affect us on this coast,” Bridges said. “Everything that I’ve been hearing is it’s going to affect the Gulf.” Chad Carney of SCUBAdventures said the Naples dive shop has been busy selling lobster gear such as loopers and catch bags to its customers.
“Miniseason is still a big thing,” he said. “Everybody buys this stuff and goes down to the Keys and the East Coast.” That’s not because of oil. It’s because the lobstering in the Gulf just isn’t that good. Carney, a dive instructor who specializes in spearfishing and maintains the floridaskindiver.com web site, said his best day in 30-plus years of diving in the Gulf was 17 lobsters back when the regular-season limit was 24 per boat. “Of course people have been asking about the oil spill and we’ve been trying to shed the truth on things and let them know there’s been nothing here,” Carney said. “Southwest Florida is probably the safest place in the state, even if they can’t shut [the well] off, based on the currents.” Where those currents eventually carry the oil in the Gulf could affect future lobster seasons. Lobster eggs drift with the current. The Keys and South Florida get their lobsters from areas such as the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, and the Caribbean. Eggs from lobsters in South Florida replenish stocks along the Atlantic Coast. “I’ve caught spiny lobsters in North Carolina and, believe it or not, I’ve had friends catch them in Ireland, where the Gulf Stream ends,” Coulter said.
How oil could hurt future seasons If the oil were to reach the places in the Gulf where baby lobsters begin their lives, a year’s worth of lobsters could be lost, which might not be apparent for several years. “Crustaceans are sensitive, especially in the juvenile and larval stages,” said Dr. Richard Dodge, dean of the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic
Lobster miniseason regulations
CAREY WAGNER/SUN SENTINEL FILE
Jessica Cole, of Weston, captures a lobster in her net on the first day of the 2009 lobster miniseason.
Center and an expert on corals and coral reefs. “There’s a possibility that oil could affect South Florida’s source of lobsters. If the oil reaches there and is not floating and has toxic elements, it affects baby lobsters.” If oil were to blanket the reefs in South Florida, that would affect adult lobsters, but the odds of that happening are remote. If an oily sheen on the water’s surface or tar balls appear in South Florida, the reefs and lobsters will be fine. “Typically, if oil is floating, it’s going to float over the reef, so it’s relatively benign,” Dodge said. “Depending on the degree the oil mixes into the water column, then it’s more dangerous.” Not knowing where the submerged oil is, is what concerns Dodge. “There’s kind of two sources of the oil: the floating oil that’s going to weather quickly and then the submerged oil. We have no sense of where [the submerged oil] is and that’s what I worry about the most. If it sneaks up on us, it’s going to be in the water column and touch the reef and touch the things that live in the reef,” Dodge said. Bill Cole of Sea Experience, a Fort Lauderdale dive shop and dive boat, said he feared the worst when the
Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20. Reports of the oil coming to the Keys and South Florida were rampant. On May 3, University of Miami physical oceanographer Nick Shay was quoted by numerous publications and online sites as saying that the oil would likely get into the Gulf loop current and, within a week, be in the Keys and then get into the Gulf Stream. That never happened. “I worried about that so much when it started, I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Cole, who relaxed as the oil stayed away from South Florida. “But even before they capped this thing, I wasn’t worried about it. “To be honest with you, I can’t even imagine [oil-covered South Florida reefs] happening with what’s going on right now. If the worst case happens, then I don’t think we’d even notice it out on the reef. There’d be small, weathered tar balls on the beach and people would have to clean them off their feet.” Steve Waters can be reached at 954-356-4648 or swaters@SunSentinel.com
More info Stay up to date with lobster miniseason, fishing and much more at SunSentinel.com/outdoors
Seasons: The two-day miniseason runs from 12:01 a.m. Wednesday to midnight Thursday. The regular season is Aug. 6-March 31. Licenses: You must have a saltwater fishing license ($17 for residents) and a lobster stamp ($5) to take lobsters. Limits: The miniseason bag limit is six lobsters per person per day in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park and 12 per person in the rest of the state. Legal lobsters: Spiny lobster must have a minimum carapace length of more than 3 inches and must be measured in the water. (Those who catch lobsters with a bully net are allowed to measure them in the boat and release the small ones.) No egg-bearing females may be taken. Other regulations: Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during miniseason. During the miniseason in Islamorada, Marathon, Key Colony Beach and unincorporated Monroe County, no diving or snorkeling is allowed within 300 feet of improved residential or commercial shoreline, in any manmade or private canal or in any public or private marina. Taking lobsters in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is prohibited during miniseason. Harvest also is prohibited during miniseason and the regular season in Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, certain areas of Pennekamp Park and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dive flags: Dive flags on boats must be at least 20 by 24 inches and have stiffeners to keep the flags unfurled. Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a dive flag on open waters and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets or navigation channels. The diver down flag must be lowered once all divers are aboard or ashore. Information: Call the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regional office in West Palm Beach at 561-625-5122 or go to myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/ Saltwater_Regulations_lobster.htm To report lobster violations, call Wildlife Alert at 888-404-3922.
The cost of a lobster It depends on how many you catch Catching a lobster dinner appeals to thousands of South Florida divers who hit the water for miniseason, but it’s not necessarily the most economical way to enjoy eating the crustaceans. Consider the typical diver who goes off South Florida on his or her own boat. A saltwater fishing license is $17 and a lobster stamp is $5. The launch fee at a boat ramp might be $10. Gas for the day is about $30. Filling two dive tanks with air is $6 per tank. That’s $74 total. If you catch your miniseason limit of 12 lobsters, that’s $6.17 per lobster. If you catch only two lobsters, that’s $37 per lobster. Those who dive for lobsters from a licensed dive boat pay about the same. Twenty divers on the Sea Experience II dive boat of Fort Lauderdale caught 86 lobsters last year on the Wednesday morning trip, a 4.3 per person average. The cost of the trip was $55, so the lobsters were $11 to $12 apiece.
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Port wants private security master steward for the union, wrote the Broward County Commission. In recent years, community service aides have identified stolen vehicles and stopped weapons from getting into the port. If the port moves forward with its privatization plan, BSO would be forced to lay off 79 of its 232 aides on a last-hired, first-fired basis, Sheriff Al Lamberti said. Port administrators also are scrutinizing whether they need 57 deputies working there as called for by the port’s contract with BSO, which expires Oct. 1. The Sheriff’s Office — security, fire-rescue and emergency services — accounts for 34 percent of the port’s operating expenses. Lamberti said one of the port’s proposals for cutting costs is to eliminate as many as 30 deputy positions. Allen said the number being considered is nowhere near that high, but declined to elaborate, saying he didn’t want to negotiate through the media. The decisions about port security ultimately must be made by the Broward County Commission as it sets next year’s budget. Port Everglades is an economic powerhouse generating $14 billion in business activity statewide and impacting an estimated 143,185 jobs. The entry point for South Florida’s gasoline and diesel fuel, if it were shut down the region’s transportation system would be crippled. Just a decade ago, access to the port was open, with people able to drive through it to get to the beach. But in the aftermath of the 9⁄11 terrorism attack, screening measures were put in place and the security budget swelled from $4 million to about $25 million. Port Everglades is the only one of Florida’s 14 seaports that contracts with local law enforcement to staff its gates. Port of Miami uses its own employees, while the other ports hire private security firms, said Michael Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council, a trade organization. Allen said it makes eco-
CHELSEA MATIASH/SUN SENTINEL
BSO community service aide Jose Pena at a Port Everglades checkpoint. Officials want to use private security.
nomic sense to shift to private security firms that perform similar jobs at other ports. Private security firms already work at Port Everglades in the cruise terminals and cargo yards, he said. “It’s not a matter of performance issues [with the community service aides],” Allen said. “It’s a matter of cost and how can we spend the dollars wisely. … We have reduced our operating expenses the last three years with the exception of BSO. Now it is time for contract renewal, it is time for reducing security costs.” Fred McCrone, a business representative for the aides’ union, said that by contracting out security, the port could be left with low-paid, relatively inexperienced guards deciding who is allowed entry. The number of people guarding the port could be reduced if Port Everglades administrators focused on installing new security equipment, especially for a “failing camera system,” McCrone said. He said that of the 413 security cameras at the port, as many as half are routinely out of operation. Allen called those numbers inaccurate, and said that of the port’s approximately 300 cameras, fewer than 20 currently require maintenance.
Sheriff Al Lamberti said he has a good relationship with port officials and that contract negotiations are still under way. He said he’s concerned how a private security firm would work with BSO and other law enforcement agencies — including Coast Guard, Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Administration — present at the port. He pointed to how in December 2008, one of his community service aides recognized two men wanted in the Dunkin’ Donut robbery spree as they tried to enter Port Everglades to board a ship for the Bahamas. The aide tipped off a Sheriff’s deputy and the suspects were arrested at the checkpoint. “If a private security company was on that gate, those guys probably would have made it through the gate and out of the country,” Lamberti said. Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4491.
Have your say Should the Broward County Commission allow the port to privatize some security jobs? Cast your vote. SunSentinel.com/bsoport
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