Fair winds and following seas are expected for this week's upcoming lobster mini-season.
Marine officials reported on Friday that the annual throng of bug hunters is already descending on the Florida Keys.
The National Weather Service is calling for south-to-southeast winds at 10 to 15 knots with 1- to 2-foot seas within the reef and 3- to 4-foot seas beyond. Isolated late-afternoon thunderstorms with highs in the 90s and lows in the 80s also are expected.
In other words, typical Keys weather for late July, said meteorologist Chip Kasper.
"We will fine-tune the approach as we get closer, and we're still a few days out," Kasper said. "But at this point, we're seeing nothing unusual in the model projections. It looks very, very typical for July."
That forecast is a far cry from last year, when 15-knot winds and choppy seas kept state wildlife and federal authorities on edge as crowds braved less than ideal snorkeling and diving conditions. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers and Coast Guard patrols will be out en masse looking for bug-hunters in restricted areas, such as canals with special protected areas within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The local Coast Guard will also be patrolling in a helicopter it flew down from Miami for the event, said spokesman Chief Ryan Doss. Crews also will be looking for unsafe boaters up and down the Keys. Officials urge all boaters to be careful, as many more divers than usual will be in the water Wednesday and Thursday.
"One of the things we see so often is people who don't recognize the physical difficulties involved in how diving can be if you're not in shape," Doss said. "We see many preventable heart attacks as well as decompression sickness cases in these two days."
Additionally, the FWC will be using recently acquired laser devices that can measure the distance between two points on the water. Boaters must stay 100 yards away from dive flags in inlets and channels, and 300 yards away in open water, Dube said.
"Lobster is not worth risking your life for," Dube said.
The regular commercial and recreational lobster season starts Aug. 6 and runs through March 31.
The special two-day sport season occurs on the last Wednesday and Thursday in July each year to let residents fish for lobsters before commercial lobster traps are placed in the water.
Commercial fishermen can begin splashing traps on Aug. 1, and begin harvesting them on the season start date of Aug. 6.