TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s fishermen are hoping the upcoming stone crab season is better than last season’s dismal haul.
The recreational and commercial stone crab claw harvests open Tuesday in state and federal waters. The harvests continue through mid-May.
The rules are the same in both state and federal waters. Recreational harvesters can use up to five stone crabs trap per person. There’s also a daily recreational bag limit of one gallon of claws per person or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less.
When it comes to stone crabs, fishermen usually take just one claw from each crab, which is then returned to the water. Those claws must be at least 2 3/4 inches in length.
Last year’s stone crab haul was considered one of the worst in the last two decades, with roughly 2.2 million pounds of claws harvested, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Tom Matthews told The Key West Citizen (http://bit.ly/1fx8ojL).
That was the smallest haul since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when fishermen lost large numbers of traps, Matthews said.
The low numbers in 2012 made stone crab prices soar. Jumbo claws reached $23 a pound, large claws went for $16 to $18 a pound and medium claws sold for $10 to $12 a pound.
Such low volumes were not good for fisherman, said Marathon-based Keys Fisheries Market Marina owner Gary Graves.
“Extremely high prices don’t make up for a lack of volume,” Graves said. “It’s best to have really good volume with reasonable prices.”
A good stone crab season would see 3 million pounds of claws landed, said Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Bill Kelly.
Lingering red tides and a fatal parasite contributed to last season’s disappointing harvests, Kelly said.
“Expectations are already high, barring any tropical storms or red tide outbreaks,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of fingers crossed.”