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Date of Issue: November 10, 2005

Stone crabs disappointing so far

stone crab pic

Three weeks into the stone crab season, there is disappointment along the waterfront with catches lower than expected and even the storm everyone hoped would stir the crabs into the traps - well, "All it did was scatter the traps."

The season opened Oct. 15 and opening day was the best, and it was nothing to brag about. Processor and fishermen are dissatisfied with the season so far, but in the way of fisherfolk remain hopeful.

Stone crabs are a rich Florida delicacy and a renewable resource, the biggest claws are broken off and the crab tossed overboard to regenerate more claws in about a year and a half.

Karen Bell of the A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez admitted the season is "not very good." She along with the rest of the industry hoped the cold snap would bring a surge in stone crab harvest, but that hasn't happened yet.

Wayde Campbell, lifelong Cortez fisherman and son and grandson of fishermen back five generations, said he hauled in 200 pounds on opening day and since then the average day brings 100 to 150 pounds. Maybe enough to pay bare expenses.

Prices are good, though, he said, reflecting the scarcity of the commodity. But fuel and bait prices are higher this year, so it's "about a wash."

Bell said prices have been $11 to $16 a pound retail, quite high but reflective of the market.

Campbell said his traps were scattered around by Hurricane Wilma's tumult "and we had to spend a lot of time getting them back and in place again." The traps are baited 16-by-16-inch slatted cages that let crabs in but not out, and the traps are attached to a float by a strong line so the men can haul them up, a tedious and backbreaking job with hundreds of traps out for each boat. 

"I have a feeling that it's better south of here around Englewood and north of Crystal City," Campbell said, "and we're just in a bad spot for now."

Bell said she is still hoping for improvement, and Campbell said, "I hope it gets better before Christmas."