The first stone crabs of the season were brought aboard the boats Oct. 15. By most accounts from the commercial docks in Cortez, the yield was well below desirable.
Karen Bell, of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, said that two boats went out and, together, brought up less than 140 pounds. A third boat opted to stay at the dock due to the lack of action.
Anthony Manali, an Anna Maria-based crabber who keeps his traps in shallower waters than many of Bell’s people, had a similarly meager intake. Manali ventured to say that the Oct. 15 pull was as low as it’s been in years — certainly lighter than anything encountered in the last five.
Despite this inauspicious start, Bell and Manali agree that things are likely to improve.
“Boats will continue to go out, and as the weather shifts, crabs will move and things will change, likely for the better,” Bell said.
Manali says that as the weather and water grow colder and rougher and the moon becomes darker than it’s been these last few days, things may change quickly. “There will almost inevitably be improvement. How much, of course, is debatable,” he says. “You just have to be patient and wait for the crabs to move.”
As crabbers wait to see what the coming days and weeks have in store, there is also the coming mullet season to bolster the Cortez fishing economy.
The season for mullet doesn’t become intense locally until about mid-December, but requests are coming in for the fish. Bell says she’s been receiving calls from Egypt, Spain, Taiwan, Israel and other distant places regarding mullet roe. The callers are wondering how plentiful the fish may be during the fall run.
These early calls, she says, are in part due to last season’s poor mullet turn-out, which was the result of the oil spill, among other things.
James “Wyre” Lee, of Cortez Bait and Seafood, explained the geographical pattern that the mullet follow as they spawn, with North Carolina’s peak season falling in mid-October, Louisiana’s in mid-November and Florida’s in December. With this pattern, one can speculate on what each successive peak will yield but, as with the stone crabs, it’s always a gamble and an almost impossible call to make until the fish arrive.
The best way to predict the mullet run is to look for local signs.
As Bell says, “We’re hoping for a better year. Right now, there are lots of fish around and there’s excitement in the air.”
Viewing the bay waters from the A.P. Bell docks last week, some frenzied dolphin were observed for an extended time, splashing and feeding.
A boat mechanic working nearby remarked on how uncommon a site that is, both in it’s duration and enthusiasm, and that such behavior can only mean that there are plenty of fish down there.
And the market insight may be right on.