Florida’s 2020-21 spiny lobster season was extremely poor, with low production and low early-season boat prices that only rebounded in the winter when the crustaceans were scarce.

But as always, Keys seafood dealers and fishermen remain optimistic that the 2021-22 season, which opens in August and runs through March, will return to average harvest levels of between 5.5 million and 6 million pounds.

According to state commercial landings data, only about 3.5 million pounds of lobster tails were harvested in 2020, with an average boat price of about $7. Landings for 2021, which are still incomplete, show about 350,000 pounds with an average price of more than $11.50, owing to a surge in purchase of live product by Chinese buyers for that nation’s winter New Year celebration.

“Production-wise, we’re way off,” said Gary Graves, who operates Keys Fisheries, a restaurant, market and wholesaler in Marathon, Fla. “The season was horrible. Is it water quality? Is it the storms that destroyed the habitat? I’ve been doing this 50 years. This year, we’re looking forward to a normal season with good pricing. There’s a shortage of lobster around the world and prices should be good.”

He added that his restaurant is enjoying its best year ever now that covid-related restrictions have been lifted in Florida.

“The price started terrible. The catch wasn’t good. By the time the price came up, there wasn’t much catch. But we’re hopeful this year,” said Mimi Stafford, who runs a small fleet of lobster boats and 2,700 traps with her husband and son in the lower Keys. “We wouldn’t be in the fishery if we weren’t eternal optimists.”

Sue Cocking spent more than 20 years as the outdoors writer at the Miami Herald, covering everything from commercial and recreational fishing to powerboat racing and scuba diving. She once worked as a light-tackle charter boat fishing captain in Key West and had an 18-year career in radio news broadcasting. She lives in Sebastian, Fla.

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