Tropical Storm Isaac may have spared Florida Keys homes and businesses on land, but there are early reports that it may have damaged, and possibly destroyed, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of spiny lobster traps.
The storm blew in about three weeks after lobster season started, making for a rough start for many trap fishermen. The Upper Keys seemed to be the hardest hit, but many fishermen did not start checking their traps until Wednesday and Thursday.
Some reports estimate that 25 percent to 50 percent of lobster traps off Key Largo were damaged or destroyed, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association.
"I don't have a feel for the overall magnitude as of yet," Kelly told The Citizen.
Conch Key-based fisherman Gary Nichols started checking his traps Tuesday and found many were in shallower water and had moved about a half-mile. The traps in deeper water did not move, he said.
Nichols speculated that many of the traps will turn out to be damaged and need repair.
"It could have been better, and it could have been worse," Nichols said. "Either way it is still not a good thing. This is not a good start to the season."
Kelly has sent emails to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and federal U.S. House Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) and David Rivera -- both Republicans who represent South Florida -- alerting them to the possibility of widespread trap damage and the possible economic impact to the spiny lobster industry.
Ros-Lehtinen used to represent the Keys, but her district recently changed due to redistricting, and Rivera now represents Monroe County under the newly drawn 26th District.
The representatives could help the fishermen obtain Small Business Administration loans, Federal Emergency Management Administration funding and other financial help, which was the case during the 2005 hurricane season. Four storms skirted the Keys in 2004 and four more brushed by in 2005, destroying thousands of traps and costing the industry a estimated $35 million.
"We just want to put them on notice for the potential of loss," Kelly said.