Isaac wreaks havoc with Florida Keys lobster traps

Tropical Storm Isaac may have destroyed up to half the oceanside lobster traps off the Upper Keys last weekend, commercial fishermen reported this week.

“There was a line of storms that came through and did serious damage off the Upper Keys,” Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association executive director Bill Kelly said Thursday. “We’re looking at trap losses of at least 25 percent and maybe 50 percent.”

The storm’s winds from the south did not cause significant damage on shore in the Keys but Isaac left a field of “buoy bouquets” — entanglements of trap buoys and lines — in its wake in some areas.

“Guys are finding 10 to 15 lines all tangled up, with a gang of traps on the bottom. Sometimes there are no traps,” Kelly said.

Upper Keys fishermen tend to place their oceanside traps in deeper water off the edge of the reef due to no-trapping areas closer to shore, he said. It is illegal to trap lobster inside Everglades National Park waters, which encompass most of Florida Bay.

“We’re still getting assessments” from the Middle and Lower Keys, Kelly said.

Some bayside trappers in the Marathon area reported only minimal damage. One fishermen checked a line of 200 traps and found only three had been moved “a few feet.”

The Fishermen’s Association has contacted state and federal representatives to begin seeking a small-business disaster declaration so the fishermen can obtain low-cost loans to recover, Kelly said.

“We are working very closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission so they know we may have to pull multiple traps at the same time, and so they can keep watch for trap robbers,” Kelly said.

The regular trap season has been open for less than a month.

Snapper closure

In another commercial-fishing issue, federal fishery managers said Monday that fishing for yellowtail snapper may be halted Sept. 11 because annual catch limits will have been reached.

About 90 percent of Florida’s commercial hook-and-line yellowtail catches come from the Keys, generating about $2 million annually, according to the Fishermen’s Association.

A newly completed stock assessment shows the yellowtail fishery to be in “extraordinary shape,” Kelly said. Fishermen are seeking to have the annual catch limit revised upward on an emergency basis.

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