Cortez crabbers prepare, move traps to water

It won’t be long before fresh stone crab claws are back on restaurant menus as Oct. 5 signaled the first day for fishers to sink their crab traps.

And it was a busy day.

“It gets more competitive every year,” said Trek Hackney, a six-year veteran of stone crab season. “It’s very competitive out there.”

Stone crab season began Oct. 5, but the day was only for commercial crabbers to sink their traps. Harvesting of stone crab claws doesn’t begin until Oct. 15 and the season runs through May 15.

Hackney and his “team” were loading traps at a yard in Cortez where they had been preparing for the season.

“The process begins with the traps,” said Hackney. “We have to get them all cleaned out, paint the bottoms and get all the old gear ready to go. It’s not the fun part of the job.”

The first 10 days of waiting for the harvest to begin isn’t fun either, he said. Especially because the first haul will often tell what kind of season it will be, and the anticipation of what the first traps will contain can make for a long 10 days.

“Stone crab season is always unpredictable,” said Hackney. “If we pull up a lot of crabs in the first haul, it’s likely to be a good year. If we don’t get that many, then the season can be slow at first, but can improve with a couple of cold fronts that cools the water down. As soon as the water cools, the crabs will move in” the traps.

Hackney said the market price for stone crab varies and no one is talking about what this year’s prices will be.

“Believe me, I asked,” he said. “We sell to local fish houses and restaurants, and no one is talking. They typically set the price on the first day of harvest, which is Oct. 15.”

The crabbers have their own traps and buoys marked by specific colors and numbers. It’s a felony to get into someone else’s traps.

“We all try to be professionals and trust each other, even though it’s so competitive out there,” he said. “Everyone does a good job of respecting one another’s traps, for the most part.”

Hackney said, “The waiting is the hardest part. We sink a lot of money into this, so we always hope for the best.”

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