Lobster mini-season divers find man dead

Authorities on alert during lobster mini-season

HILLSBORO BEACH, Fla. – A group of divers hunting for lobster found a 70-year-old man dead Wednesday afternoon off Broward County. Every year, about two people during during the two-day lobster mini season. 

Hillsboro Beach Police Department officers learned the diver, identified as Peter Mendez, had vanished about 9 a.m. The divers found his body submerged about 1 p.m.  A commercial diving boat found the body about 4 p.m., nearly half a mile from the Hillsboro Inlet.

A Broward Sheriff's Office diver recovered the man's body and detectives are investigating his death. They are waiting for the medical examiner's office to determine the cause of death. Deputies do not suspect foul play. 

Coleman Cameron, left, brings out lobsters for inspection from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Guillermo Cartaya, right, as he checks the size of the 31 lobsters Cameron and fellow divers had on their boat during the first day of the spiny lobster mini-season, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, off the shores of Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


In Miami Beach, the many boats across waters were halting as soon as they saw the Florida wildlife patrol vessel. The boaters knew routine checks would happen during the two-day spiny lobster sport season that began Wednesday morning.

Most were ready to comply.

"Thought I would save us both some time," boat operator James Braswell, 47, said as his vessel, with three other recreational divers, pulled up to the authorities’ boat.

Two Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers proceeded to check that the divers were following procedure in order to hunt for lobsters. Lifejackets, a salt-water fishing license with a spiny lobster permit, dive flags and 12 lobsters per person at the correct measurement is a must-have for participants. Divers in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park are only allowed six each.

“We can be friendly and joke with boaters, but our primary goal is to make sure they recreate responsibly,” FWC officer Guillermo Cartaya said. “We go looking for the bad guys and make sure the good guys stay safe.”

Florida boasts one of the largest lobster fisheries, and the mini-season, which runs through Thursday, is a chance for recreational divers only to try their hand at lobstering before the regular commercial season starts on August 6 and runs through March 31.

To ensure the lobster population continues, FWC officials measure each captured lobster to ensure it is the proper size. If not, the lobster must be released. Another violation that officials look out for are lobsters whose tails were separated, usually an attempt by participants to meet the height requirements. Egg-bearing female lobsters must also be left alone.

“We are looking at the long-term sustainability of the lobster fishery,” FWC officer Ronald Washington said. “We certainly take care of it and want to make sure it stays that way for future generations. We have to do what we can.”

A dive flag is mandatory for safety reasons and other boaters must remain more than 300 feet away from the posted flag. For the past decade, several divers have died during the mini-season, including one whose body was recovered Wednesday off Pompano Beach.

During Cartaya and Washington’s patrol, they issued a warning to one boat that had a ripped dive flag, explaining that other boaters will not be able to see the damaged flag, which could cause accidents.

The boat, holding five divers including Roman Sperkacz, 24, accepted it with no complaint and beamed over their haul to the officers. They caught 31 lobsters in an hour using only snorkels and lobster snares. They hoped to catch more in the next hour to reach their day limit of 60 lobsters.

“We love the season and live for it,” Sperkacz said. “The camaraderie of the event, the teamwork we use to catch darting lobsters, and its dinner for the next few weeks.”

Though reprimanded for not having a proper dive flag, Robbie Everhard, 25, and the rest of the boaters appreciated the efforts of the officers.

“Thanks for keeping the waters safe,” Everhard said as their boat departed. “Catch those scums.”


About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.