As a child growing up in central Florida, Mimi Stafford made frequent trips to the Florida Keys with her family, inspiring her to seek a career as a marine biologist. Following her marriage to Simon Stafford, an Englishman she met while studying abroad in the 1970s, Mimi really wanted to introduce her new husband to the coral reefs and bountiful fisheries of the Keys.
The couple arrived in Key West in 1974 and never left.
Today, Mimi Stafford — 70 and a grandmother — runs lobster and stone crab traps with Simon out of the same wide, flat-bottomed T-Craft bay boat she’s operated since the 1990s while son Dylan, 38, runs even more lobster and stone crab traps from his much larger 43-foot Torres.
“I love the ocean. Any excuse to be out there, I look for,” Stafford said. “Being on the water and being active has kept me younger. My body has held up pretty well.”
She acknowledges some concerns for the lobster and stone crab fisheries — both of which are having a mediocre season.
“In both industries, there are a lot of unknowns,” Stafford said. “With water quality, we don’t know if it’s the after-effects of the oil spill, red tide, the hurricanes. And there’s so much more pollution because of so many more people.”
The veteran trap fisherwoman suggests that state fisheries managers push back the start of lobster harvest season, which currently opens on Aug. 6, for a few weeks so that harvesters can get better prices.
“We’re catching most of our lobster when the price is really yuck. Nobody wants lobsters in August. It makes sense to push it back so you’re not settling for the lowest price,” she said.
Keys fishermen get their highest lobster prices in early January from buyers in China who pay a premium for whole, live product.
Stafford helps to influence policy by serving on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s lobster advisory board and working with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Council and the not-for-profit environmental group Reef Relief.