Everyone believes this year has to be better for lobster

By Steve Estes

Just because recreational harvesters had a pretty good mini-season last week doesn’t necessarily mean that the commercial lobster season that opens Tuesday, August 6 will be nice to local fishermen.

“We heard a lot of good things about mini-season,” said Bob Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood retail and wholesale seafood outlet on Cudjoe Key. “But we also heard some not so good things.”

That tells him that anything is possible come Tuesday when the commercial fleet gets a chance to pull its first traps from the water.

Commercial lobster fishermen can put traps in the water prior to the opening of season, but can’t pull lobster from those traps until season opens.

“Most of the trap guys will make sure the traps get a good 10-day soak before they pull them. Better bang for the buck out of the chute,” said Holloway.

He expects to see commercial bully netters and commercial divers Tuesday, with maybe a few trap guys.

“Once the divers come in, we’ll have a better idea about the opening of season,” Holloway said.

His initial impression is that “It almost has to be better than last year.”

Most of the commercial fishing industry claims that 2012 was one of the worst seasons in recent memory. The price to the fishermen remained high, but the catch was extremely disappointing.

The season was harder on local fish houses than the industry as a whole, said Holloway.

Chinese buyers were still out in force last year and were paying more to the boats at the dock than the local wholesalers could support.

“Once the Chinese got most of what little was caught, there wasn’t a whole lot left over for the rest of us,” he said.

In his decade-plus of years in the seafood business, Holloway said he opened most seasons with 1,000 pounds or better the first day.

Last year, he saw a drop of about 30 percent in the early going…a drop that held steady for much of the first half of the season, which runs through March, and then tailed off to almost nothing after December.

“It’s really hard to predict what will happen this year based on how bad last year was,” said Holloway.

He said the opening day prices haven’t been set, but the general consensus is that it will fall in a normal opening day range of $6 to $7 per pound.

A lousy commercial season for lobster has extended ramifications throughout the Florida Keys economy.

Most commercial fishermen rely on lobster and then stone crab season to make the bulk of their money for the year. A lousy back-to-back season like last year leaves little left over for the normal pass-through spending for boat upgrades and maintenance or new trap gear.

“A  couple more bad seasons might run some of the smaller guys out of business, if it hasn’t already,” said Holloway.

He said everyone is hopeful that this year will top last year so that the local fishing industry has a chance to recover this year.

“If we have another really bad year, some of the science folks might have to step in and start looking at what’s going on around here,” said Holloway.

He said that no one in authority has yet voiced an opinion on why lobster and stone crab seasons have been much less lucrative in the last three years than historically, but he’s convinced that there is a valid reason for the decline.

“Was it the oil spill from three years ago? Was it the dispersant s they pumped in the water? Is warming water having an effect?”

Those are future questions. Right now, he said the industry is eagerly awaiting Tuesday’s opening with high hopes that the traps will come up teeming with one of the Florida Keys’ most recognizable seafood delicacies.

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