Optimism runs high — in spite of red tide — for stone crab harvest

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Bernardo Sosa, of the Star Fish Company in Cortez heaves a pan of stone crabs on the inaugural day of the 2017 stone crab season. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

“They’re all out there getting their traps ready — they must think it’ll be a good one.”

That was Bert Packer’s take Sept. 20 at the Cortez Bait & Seafood Fish Market, 12110 Cortez Road, on expectations for the Oct. 15-May 15 stone crab season in the commercial fishing village of Cortez.

The state allows trap placement Oct. 5.

Local fishers prepare their traps, and bait and set them before harvesting and bringing in the catch — only claws two and three-quarters inches long or longer — to the Cortez fish houses, restaurants and markets.

And, how will this year’s red tide impact the catch?

“I expect something good,” said Blue Marlin Seafood owner Adam Ellis, who’s seen his share of red tides after more than 30 years on Anna Maria Island.

This season’s tide is not nearly as bad other years, he said, adding that the crabs may be living on the outer edge of the tide. Ellis planned to test the waters before committing the 450 traps he manages with his brother-in-law.

Stone crab seasons after red tides are typically good, according to John Banyas, owner of the fish and bait shop, Swordfish Grill, NE Taylor Boatworks at the 119th Street waterfront, who also runs several stone crab boats to stock the restaurant and market.

But couched his hopes with uncertainty, and James “Wyre” Lee at the bait shop agreed.

“I don’t know. I’d kind of like to expect something good. And everyone’s out there getting ready. They must think something,” he said.

Prices rise with the low supply when the stone crab season brings the delicacy to market.

About prices, Wyre said, “I don’t think it can be any higher than last year.”

Last year’s best-seller? Five- to 7-ounce claws that ran at $32 per pound.

            — Kathy Prucnell

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