A bill passed in March by the Florida Legislature could save dive operators a state license fee for lobster season.
Pending Governor Rick Scott’s signature, which is expected, the new bill clarifies the current law and states that dive boat owners are not required to have a lobster license for their boats if their dive passengers carry lobster licenses of their own.
During the July 2011 Sports Season, popularly called “mini-season” the Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission caused quite a stir when they began to interpret the law to require every boat carrying lobster would need a state license regardless of whether or not all passengers possessed individual licenses.
Jeff Torode of South Florida Diving Headquarters brought suit challenging the law and delaying the FWC plans to begin enforcement.
In an interview with the Miami Herald Torode said, “The majority of my passengers are not resource-takers. That is not our sole purpose. We shouldn’t be at the same fee schedule as a person that’s 100 percent take 100 percent of the year.”
Joining the fray on behalf of its members, DEMA- The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association helped bring considerable attention to the issue. “As the previous legislation was written, it was unclear as to who would be required to possess the fishing and lobster license, and therefore unfair to both dive charter vessel operators and divers,” DEMA Executive Director Tom Ingram said in a statement. The overall cost to boat operators would have been significant with license fees ranging from $200.00 to over $2000.00 based on boat passenger limits.
The new law allows dive-boat operators to either purchase a boat fishing license covering all their passengers, or ensure that all lobster divers onboard possess a current personal license.
“The change in enforcement could have resulted in both divers and dive vessel operators being forced to purchase a license, doubling the cost,” according to DEMA.
“This is a clear solution to the problem which arose last year, and one which will save both divers and operators money by ensuring that there is no double-dipping,” Ingram said. “Either the vessel operator or the diver will need to have a license, but not both.”
Although Governor Scott is expected to sign the bill, interested parties can let their voices be heard by contacting his office to urge signing.
The good news is that the new law is scheduled to take effect before the 2012 Sport Lobster days on July 25 and 26.