A 60-year-old man from Little Torch Key died Wednesday morning while diving for lobster on the Gulf side of Cudjoe Key, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
William Simko was scuba diving in 10 to 12 feet of water for lobster at about 10:30 a.m. when he “reportedly became distressed,” Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Becky Herrin said. Hearing his cries for help, his son and four others jumped into the water, brought him to the boat and started performing CPR.
A U.S. Navy helicopter heard their call for assistance and responded. Simko was taken to the Lower Keys Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy will be performed, Herrin said.
Meanwhile, Warren Sapp, a pro football Hall of Famer and former University of Miami star, was bitten in the arm by a shark while diving for lobster off Marathon in the Florida Keys, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
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One witness thought it was a small nurse shark, about four feet long, the Times reported.
“I was sticking my hand in a hole and a monster locked on me,” Sapp told the Times. “You’ve got to be careful sticking your hand in some holes down here.”
Additionally, the sheriff’s office cited three men who were harvesting lobster near the north end of Spanish Harbor Bridge on the bay side.
Maksim Parshin of Miami, Alexey Ivanenko of Hollywood and Valeriy Gerber of Sunny Isles Beach were cited for possession of undersize lobster, possession of speared lobster and harvesting lobster without a measuring device.
The sheriff’s office said this was one of several marine violations deputies found on the first day of Florida spiny lobster sport season, which began Wednesday and ends just after 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s usually insane, a frenzy if you will, especially in certain areas where lobsters are plentiful in the Keys and there are a lot of boaters,” said Bobby Dube, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman for the Keys.
Dube said folks have a tendency to be overly protective of spots they’ve staked out and don’t want to share with fellow fishermen.
“In past years we’ve had people shooting flares at one another, throwing rocks at one another, shooting spear guns because someone is in their lobster hole or spot,” Dube said.
“We’ve had a lot of fights over lobster territory, or what I call honey holes. We’ve also had fatalities where people were run over by boats, salt-water drownings, heart attacks and other dive-related fatalities.’’
Fish and Wildlife marine spokeswoman Amanda Nally said “most of the harvest tends to be concentrated in South Florida, the Keys more than anywhere else. The big thing we want to remind people is just to be safe on the water.
“Make sure you’re using your divers-down warning device. That can be a dive flag, for example. Basically, you want to warn others in vessels that there are people swimming or diving nearby.’’
Despite the potential dangers, divers still rush to get out on the water.
Mike Zimmer, president of the 2020 South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, went out early Wednesday morning with two friends to catch lobsters.
Zimmer, who has been catching lobsters for 25 years, said the miniseason is a great time for the “recreational wrangler” to catch a few lobsters before the commercial fishermen begin setting traps during the first week of August.
“You look at lobsters all year round and you can’t get ’em,” Zimmer continued. “They’re sitting out there, taunting me. I look and say, I’ll be back in July.”
Brian Bishop, a sports marketing consultant who joined Zimmer Wednesday, said he was looking forward to making lobster ceviche and lobster tacos for his family.
“We’re really lucky in South Florida,” Bishop said. “You can go out, have a good time with the family, bring home some really fresh seafood and do it all yourself.”
The two men said while there were fewer and smaller lobsters than last year, there was still beautiful weather and a healthy crop of lobsters.
They’re not planning on going out tomorrow — it’s harder the second day, Zimmer said — but will enjoy sharing the lobsters with their families.
“They’ll get right to the barbecue,” Zimmer said after tossing a lobster back into his boat.
The miniseason bag limit for spiny lobsters — sometimes known as rock lobsters — is six per person per day for Monroe County and Biscayne National Park, and 12 per person for the rest of Florida.
Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during these two days, and harvesting of the lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, in no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary.