Hurricane Irma cuts Florida lobster harvest by half

World Today

Many in the U.S. state of Florida are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma. Among those hit hardest are lobster fishermen. Much of their catch ends up on tables in China and other Asian countries. 

CGTN’s Steve Mort has more on the damage to the industry.

A fresh catch of spiny lobster arrives dockside. But for marina owner Gary Graves, this delivery is too little, too late.

“Basically, lobster fishing is pretty much over for us this year,”said Graves, who is vice president of Keys Fisheries wholesaler.

Graves says Hurricane Irma dealt a severe blow when it hit Florida in September. Leaving a trail of wreckage on land, the storm also came just a month into lobster harvesting season.

“We’re going to probably end up maybe 50 percent of a normal season the way it looks right now,” he said.

While many Keys residents say it’s likely to take months for debris like this to be cleared away, those involved in the fishing industry say it could take even longer than that for their livelihoods to recover. Graves says Irma destroyed many of the traps used catch lobster.

“We’ve got boats that have lost a minimum of 25 percent of their lobster traps, up to 80 percent,”he said.

Larry Yee of Elite Sky International exports almost a million kilos of live spiny lobster a year – mostly to China. He believes it may take three years to return to full capacity.

Lobster accounts for about a third of the Key’s $150 million commercial fishing industry.

“Our estimate right now is that we may have lost 43 percent of the lobster gear that’s out there,” said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

Gary Graves hopes to salvage some of his losses with a successful stone crab season.

“We’ll hang in there,” he said. “I’ve been here 50 years – this is not my first dance. This is probably the worst one I’ve seen in 50 years.”

For now, Graves says he’s focusing on keeping his head above water until his boats can head back out to sea for next year’s lobster harvest.