All About Florida Keys Fishing & Key West Fishing

    Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus

    Caribbean spiny lobster supports important fisheries throughout most of its range,
    Bermuda to Brazil. In south Florida, spawning occurs from April through October when
    water temperatures exceed 23 °C. Settlement of pueruli, the free-swimming phase linking
    planktonic and benthic life stages, occurs year-round. A peak in settlement usually occurs
    during the spring and sometimes during other seasons (Marx 1986). The origin of
    Caribbean spiny lobsters inhabiting Florida is not known (Lyons 1986). Competing
    theories suggest that recruits originate from the West Indies (Sims and Ingle 1967), from
    the Gulf of Mexico (Lewis 1951), or from local areas (Menzies and Kerrigan 1979). Young
    juvenile lobsters, about 1 inch in carapace length, can grow 0.01–0.05 inches carapace
    length per week (Forcucci et al. 1994). This growth  rate would allow some spiny lobsters to
    reach 3 inches in about 1.5 years after settlement. In general, although male lobsters grow
    faster than females, most Caribbean spiny lobster in Florida attain about 3.4–3.5 inches
    carapace length when they are more than three years old (Muller et al. 1997a). Adult
    Caribbean spiny lobsters feed mainly on gastropods, chitons, and bivalves (Cox et al.
    1997). Arthropods inhabiting rubble fields were also found in their diets.
    Since about 1992, the commercial landings of Caribbean spiny lobster in Florida have
    declined from a 1994-1997 average of about 5 million pounds per fishing season to a
    2001-2006average of just over 3 millions pounds. During the 2006 calendar year, the
    commercial fishery landed 4,775,169 pounds in Florida. Ninety-one percent of these
    landings were made on the gulf coast. Commercial landings were concentrated in south
    Florida in Monroe, Dade and Palm Beach Counties (Fig. 1). Most of the lobsters landed
    outside Dade and Monroe Counties were caught in the Keys and sold to wholesale dealers
    operating in Palm Beach County. Usually, lessthan a half million pounds are landed
    outside of the Florida Keys. Within the Keys, the fishery developed in the Key West area and
    expanded to the middle keys. This development occurred around 1968, when the minimum
    carapace length was decreased to 3 inches. The current fishinseason opens on August 6
    and closes March 31. Approximately 40% of the season's landings occur in August, which
    is followed by a sharp decrease in landings thereafter. Effort also declines after the
    opening of the stone crab fishery on October 15. A spiny lobster trap reduction program
    was implemented in August 1993 to reduce excess fishing effort in the Keys lobster fishery.

    In 1991, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began using mail surveys
    (Bertelsen and Hunt 1992) to estimate the recreational harvest of spiny lobster during the
    two-day sport season and during the late summer (August 6 until the first Monday in
    September). The most recently available survey was conducted during 2006 when
    statewide recreational landings were estimated to be 947,353 pounds. This estimate was
    36% lower than the average landings in the previous available five years (2000-2004) and
    was 37% lower than the historic average landings 91992-2006). Adverse weather
    conditions made it difficult to conduct the survey in 2005, so survey data from 2005 is

    The calendar 2006 total commercial landings of spiny lobster was 16% higher than the
    average landings in the previous five years (2001–2005) and was 18% lower than the
    historical average landings (1982–2006). Atlantic coast landings peaked at nearly 1.0
    million pounds in 1991, but since 2000, reported landings have averaged about 0.4 million
    pounds (Fig. 2). On the gulf coast, landings generally decreased between 1989 and 1993
    but then increased markedly to an average of about 6.2 million pounds during the period
    1994-2000. Landings dropped to a calendar-year average of 3.8 million pounds during
    2001-2006 (Fig. 2). Landings were low in 1992 because of Hurricane Andrew and in 1998
    because of low catch rates in August followed by Hurricane Georges in September.
    Standardized commercial landings rates for spiny lobster fishers on the Atlantic dropped
    during 1994–1995, and then remained fairly stable during 1996-1999 before slowly
    declining through 2003. In recent years there have been years of higher than average
    landings rates in 2004 and again in 2006 (Fig. 3). On the gulf coast, landing rates slowly
    increased from 1992 through 1999, decreased during 2000–2001, and then exhibited an
    increasing trend that led to historically high levels during the period 2004-2006. An early
    age-structured analysis of the catches-at-age (Muller et al. 1997) showed that fishing
    mortality rates during the mid 1990’s were higher than commonly used benchmarks for
    overfishing (e.g., F0.1 = 0.28), indicating a continued need for further reduction in the
    number of traps used in the fishery. In fact, a later analysis found that female lobster
    abundance in south Florida had increased sharply after the initiation of the trap reduction
    program during the 1993–1994 fishing season (Muller et al. 1999, 2000) with transitional
    spawning potential ratios close to 30% during 1999–2000. In the most recent stock
    assessment analyses (SEDAR 08 U.S.Stock Assessment Panel 2005), a variety of
    population assessment techniques indicated that static spawngin potential ratios were
    likely near 30% and potentially much higher (depending on the amount of retrospective
    bias in the estimates of fishing mortality) during the 2003/2004 fishing year.
Download complete report
(including figures)
Status and Trends 2007 Report
Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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