In 1998 my grandfather found and restored the hull of a 1970 Aquasport dumped on his property. My dad often teased him for taking in such an old and bare shell of a boat, claiming he was putting “lipstick on a pig.” Today, my father continues to put lipstick on the same pig after inheriting the boat. My dad and brother use this half-century-old boat to go lobstering in the Florida Keys. It is ideal for navigating the shallow waters of the Keys because of its slightly curved but mostly flat shaped bottom. Hunting for lobster has become a generational tradition for my family, beginning with my grandfather and continuing with my dad in his youth and then my siblings but mainly my oldest brother, Kenny, who has been lobstering with my dad since he was old enough to put on a snorkel mask and fins.
The search for lobster begins with my dad following strategic GPS pinpoints that he has saved over the years after more than a decade of hunting the same waters. My brother stands on the boat’s bow, flag, and float in hand, ready to drop it in the water once he sees the silhouette of lobster structures in the water. Waters are shallow in the Florida Keys; on average, the water depth is four to five feet. My dad and brother can get away with gearing up in regular snorkel gear instead of scuba diving, another activity my dad has enjoyed since being a teenager.
In the state of Florida, for a lobster to be considered legal, it must measure greater than three inches from the eye area/middle part of its horns to the bottom end of its carapace. My dad keeps a special gauge on hand to measure lobsters and crabs to ensure their catches are within the legal size limit.
Oftentimes after my dad and brother hit some of their better lobster spots first that almost always yield a guaranteed return, then they go by and check some smaller spots that can be a hit or miss. For these spots, my dad will send my brother in the water to scope it out while he captains the boat to avoid the hassle of dropping an anchor. In my family, it is considered a great honor if you are outside the family and invited along to go lobstering. My dad and brother take their secret lobster spots quite seriously.
Once returning to the dock, my dad will rinse the boat, and it is my brother’s responsibility to rinse off all the gear in an effort to preserve its lifespan from the harsh wear and tear the salt water causes over time. At the dock, my brother also attends to the bagged lobster and prepares them to be laid over ice. The bag limit for lobsters in Florida during the regular lobster season is six per person daily. During Mini Season, also known as Spiny Lobster Sport Season, the legal bag limit is twelve everywhere in Florida, excluding Monroe County (The Florida Keys), where the bag limit remains the usual six.
Chilling the lobster puts them to sleep so they can be detached from their tails as humanely as possible. After cleaning up the gear, Kenny will sometimes grill a fresh tail for lunch or dinner. For any lobsters that will not be eaten within the next few weeks, my dad will vacuum seal them, keeping the tails in the freezer for a future dinner. My dad has always been someone I look up to because of his big heart; he continues to share the ocean's wealth with all he comes across, whether gifting his precious lobster tails to friends or sharing his love for the sea with my siblings and me through the hours we spend together under the sun on the water.