Fishermen are still pulling traps in the final two weeks of stone-crab season, but early indications suggest a step toward a return to normal harvests. “Late-season production has stepped up which could bring us close to a number in the range of a normal season,” Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said Tuesday.
Stone-crab season opens Oct. 15 and closes May 15. Last season’s commercial harvest of a reported 1.9 million pounds of claws (the only part of stone crabs harvested) was the lowest on record, said Tom Matthews, research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in Marathon. Monroe County accounted for about 692,000 pounds, about 37 percent of the statewide harvest from Florida’s nine counties that catch stone crabs commercially.” It also was the highest value for stone-crab claws on record,” Matthews said Tuesday. “This year could set a new record for value.”
The season that ended in May 2014 had an average wholesale price of $14.38 per pound, generating about $26 million in dockside sales statewide. The season ending this May probably will top last year, he noted. “It should be an OK year for harvests this decade, but it will still be low historically.” Gary Graves of Keys Fisheries in Marathon sees an increase over last season of about 10 percent, he told the Miami Herald earlier this month. A typical crab season sees about 3.2 million pounds of claws landed, historically. Final prices also could exceed last year’s record. Retail prices have been reported selling for $35 per pound for jumbo-size claws.
Kelly said this season has seen less of a deadly blood virus that proves fatal to juvenile stone crabs. The disease apparently is caused by red-tide algae blooms off Southwest Florida. And the season has not been marred by strong storms that destroy fishing gear. According to most recent records available, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission licensed about 1,200 commercial stone-crab fishers statewide, with Monroe County accounting for around 390. “We’ve got good accountability for the commercial sector’s harvest,” Kelly said. “What we don’t have is any reliable numbers for the recreational stone-crab take. “Recreational fishers can legally fish up to five traps per person, with no sales allowed. “We’re seeing cases where everybody in a family has five traps,” Kelly said. “We hear that some so-called recreational people may be fishing 100 traps.
We’re asking the state to put some sort of regulation in place. “The commercial fishing industry has established its own Stone Crab Advisory Panel to the FWC after a federal panel was abolished when Florida assumed regulation of the stone-crab fishery. Marathon fisherman Tim Daniels chairs the 22-member panel, part of a five-person Keys representation. “Stone crab is a vital part of the state’s fishery, and the Florida Keys in particular,” Kelly said. “We need people who know the industry who can let the FWC know what’s happening.” State crab biologists are working with the advisory group, he noted.