FLORIDA KEYS -- Ernie Piton doesn't really like lobster mini-season.
The two-day event, on July 24 and 25, is expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors into Florida Keys to eat at local restaurants, drink at local bars and sleep in local hotels. But more importantly, they are here to catch local spiny lobsters.
Piton is a Key Largo-based commercial lobsterman who says it's going to take a lot of law enforcement to keep the rowdy crowd in check.
"I am not a big fan of it at all," he said of the two-day event. "It's getting bigger and bigger every year."
Piton is concerned that recreational lobster harvesters will make multiple trips out into the water to catch more than their alloted daily limit of six lobsters. He also worries that the amatuers will take the egg-bearing lobsters, thereby limiting the reproductive value of the stock.
Though he doesn't like the annul event, Piton said he is enteraining some out-of-town friends this week and will likely find himself out with the masses hunting for lobster.
As for the commercial lobster season, which runs from Aug. 6 to March 31, he is hopeful.
"We won't really know how the season is until after the first month," he said.
Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, said preliminary counts look good. But, he said, they also looked good last year, which turned out to be one of the worst lobster seasons in years.
Although Kelly acknowledged that lobsters caught during the mini-season might otherwise end up in commercial traps, he said he is not worried about the two-day sport season hurting this season's take.
"It's more affordable for someone to buy a lobster at their local seafood house rather than go out on a boat," he said.
But Kelly agrees with Piton that law enforcement needs to double-down to help protect the resource from rule breakers.
Paul Johnson, who owns an offshore fishing charter in Islamorada, says the two-day event is a necessary to evil to bring money into the county.
"I usually don't do anything that week, but it's good for the tourism guys," he said. "People nowadays are bringing their own boats down here."
Hotels expect to be booked solid throughout the island chain. As of Friday, the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce said half of its member hotels were already at capacity and the other half had a handful of rooms still available. Islamorada chamber officials said their members lodges were also nearly booked to capacity.
Key Largo Chamber of Commerce President Craig Cope said a night's stay on his island will also be hard to find.
"I would guess we're in the high 80s [percentage-wise]," he said Friday, based on phone calls to all of the hotels.
Meanwhile, anticipating an influx of vehicles from the mainland, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Friday it would suspend planned lane closures in Key Largo during the week to prevent traffic from bogging down.