Florida’s stone crabbers look forward to good year, despite shorter season
Despite the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and new regulations that shortened the season and upped the minimum size for claws, the 2020-2021 stone crab harvest in the U.S. state of Florida appears to have improved from the year before and looks strong going into October’s 2021-2022 season opening.
“This year was better than last year,” said Gary Graves, operator of Marathon, Florida-based Keys Fisheries , the state’s major stone crab producer. “The market was good. Even with restaurants closed, there was enough e-commerce business. I expect a normal year. Prices will be strong. I feel good about the season coming.”
While state harvest data for the season that closed 2 May is incomplete, Graves estimated production at between 1.9 million and 2 million pounds – what he called a “normal” year. He said boat prices ranged from USD 10.00 (EUR 8.52) per pound for medium claws all the way up to between USD 28.00 and USD 29.00 (EUR 23.86 and EUR 24.71) for colossal.
“It was as high as it’s ever been, and I don’t see that falling off,” Graves said. “There’s enough people that want that crab. It’s a delicacy, a boutique fishery.”
Asked if he felt any impact from Florida’s new regulations that shortened the season by two weeks and increased the minimum size of claws by an eighth of an inch, Graves said the shorter season “probably helped a little bit,” but that gauging the effects of the larger claw requirements would take about three to four years. Graves was among a group of industry representatives who helped the state to formulate the tighter rules that aim to rebuild the stock from a steady decline since the 1990s. Another provision will require escape rings on traps beginning in the 2023-2024 season.
“The goal was a five-year plan to gain one million pounds,” Graves said. “We are going to have to have some trap reduction. The state allowed too many [trap] certificates. The fishery is over-capitalized.”
Shane Dooley, who runs stone crab traps in the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers, Florida, said he was satisfied with last season and looking forward to the next.
“We had to work at it, but yeah, it was a pretty good year,” Dooley said.
Dooley said boat prices for jumbos were around USD 25.00 (EUR 21.30), and while he missed out on some mediums because of the new claw rules, he managed to catch enough larger crabs to make up for it. He said he’s already building his new traps with escape rings in advance of the state rule in hopes they will select for the larger-sized crabs.
Reporting by Sue Cocking
Photo courtesy of Florida Sea Grant