Lobster season is in full swing in both California and Florida, and the warmer waters we’re having here this year may result in an even more abundant season than usual, which is great for divers.
Unfortunately, while the majority of lobster divers are honest and follow the laws responsibly, there are a handful of divers who do not. Such was the case when a group of three Florida divers – a family, in fact – brought home 46 lobster in one day, which is several times the limit of six lobster per diver. They had hidden the lobster on their boat.
Steven Koeppel and his two sons had 28 lobsters over the legal limit. According to court records, they also received boating violations and were cited for not having proper licenses.
Unfortunately, as destructive as poaching is, the punishment in this case doesn’t quite fit the crime. At their mandatory court appearance, a Monroe County judge sentenced all three to six months probation and $100 fines plus court costs. The maximum punishment was up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The penalty doesn’t sit well with local divers.
“FWC has these things and regulations for a reason,” said Kyle Walteymyer, who has 17 years of diving experience under his belt. He also manages Scuba Quest in Cape Coral where he teaches divers the laws of the water. “I’m blown away that somebody can get away with that much hidden lobster with basically a slap on the wrist.”
Poaching lobster isn’t only a Florida problem, of course. In 2011, five California men were cited after being caught possessing 132 lobsters, many of them shorter than legal size, and of course they were way over the legal limit. Many similar cases occur each year, unfortunately.
Divers are encouraged to help protect our state’s resources. If you witness a poaching or polluting incident or any fish and wildlife violation in California, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll free CalTIP number (888) 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You may also submit anonymous tips to CDFW using tip411. tip411 an internet based tool from CitizenObserver.com that enables the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and lets the officers respond back creating an anonymous two-way conversation. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).
The Florida season runs from August 6 through March 31, while California’s lobster season run from October 3 through March 16 this year.