Stone crab season kicks off with new limitations

‘Tis the season for stone crabs!

But it’ll be a little different in 2020, the year of the pandemic.

The changes, however, are owning to protections for the stone crab species, which has been in decline.

Florida’s stone crab season will begin Oct. 15 with changes to protect stone crab populations, including ending the harvest season May 2, 2021, two weeks earlier than usual.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission instituted the changes earlier this year due to concerns with declining crab populations.

Other changes include:

  • Increasing the minimum claw size limit by 0.125 inches, from 2.75 inches to 2.875 inches;
  • Limiting possession of whole stone crabs on the water to two checker boxes that are limited to 3-by-2-feet or 24 cubic feet in volume;
  • And advancing the season end from May 15 to May 2.

The FWC also will limit crabbers to plastic and wood crab traps with 2.375-inch escape rings before the 2023-24 stone crab season begins.

Crabbers only can harvest claws from non-egg bearing stone crabs that meet the 2.875-inch minimum claw size.

Karen Bell, a founding member of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish market and restaurant, told The Islander Oct. 9 that many Cortez crabbers already have placed traps in the water — which is allowed 10 days before the harvest begins.

Crabbers can set and check the traps in the water, but cannot harvest any crabs until Oct. 15.

“As far as the markets will be, that’s kind of sketchy,” Bell said. “It’s an expensive item in general, which makes it a little more precarious as far as if they will move easily.”

Bell has noticed many people purchasing cheaper seafood and she assumes that is due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“People don’t seem to be spending a lot of money right now, so less expensive fish seem to be what people are looking for right now,” she said.

Prices for stone crabs vary, but usually, they sell for at least $30 a serving at restaurants.

Several local restaurants offer the delicacy, including The Sandbar Restaurant, Anna Maria; Blue Marlin Seafood Restaurant, Bradenton Beach; Swordfish Grill, Cortez; and Harry’s Continental Kitchens on Longboat Key, among others.

Cortez also has several markets that traditionally sell the delicacy during season, including Bell, Star Fish Co. Market & Restaurant and Cortez Bait & Seafood Market.

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