Casitas pulled from county waters

Florida marine law enforcement officers this week removed roughly 1,000 pounds of illegal spiny lobster habitat, commonly known as condos or casitas.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) operation was done ahead of the lobster mini-season in late July, FWC spokesman Officer Bobby Dube said.

Six FWC officers visited about 50 locations and removed car bumpers, metal trash cans, plastic pallets and an even a hood from a Toyota Tundra truck, he said.

“It is illegal to place any debris, objects or attractors in the water to create habitat,” Dube said. “This is considered littering and is punishable by fines and/or jail time.”

This was the second straight year FWC officers did the cleanup, and they plan to do a few more such cleanups before mini-season, July 24 and 25.

“Dumping trash into Keys waters to attract lobsters violates (Florida Keys National Marine) sanctuary regulations and destroys the very habitat which supports this and many other important commercial species,” sanctuary spokesman Sean Morton said. “The enforcement of this illegal dumping and illegal harvest is, and will continue to be, a top priority for the sanctuary. The illegal dumping of artificial habitat and poaching of lobster undermines existing resource protection efforts and cheats honest fishers.”

Dube asked the public to call the FWC if they found illegal lobster habitat.

“We don’t advocate bringing it in yourself,” he said.

The FWC is considering legalizing lobster casitas as an allowable form of fishing gear; its researchers and scientists are reviewing studies and conducting other research. The board discussed the issue at its November 2011 meeting and is awaiting staff recommendations.

Fishermen in Cuba and the Bahamas use the artificial habitats.

Casita supporters argue that the structures are an environmentally friendly way of catching lobster; that they become part of the natural environment, providing habitat for all different types of marine life.

Opponents contend casitas upset lobster migration patterns, destroy seagrass and other bottom habitat and are nothing more than trash dumped into the water to lure lobsters.

tohara@keysnews.com

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