The Florida Stone Crab Season is well into the second week of traps being pulled and product reaching fish houses and retail outlets. The October 15th opening of the stone crab season is widely recognized as the beginning of what Florida residents call Fall, which the temperature drops to the mid 80’s, and a signal that tourist season is just around the corner. In South Florida stone crab claws are a cherished treat that are often the center piece of weekend get-to-gathers as the hot muggy summer turns into fall. Stone crabbers, fish house operators, retail fish markets and distributors, not to mention consumers wait a couple of weeks to assess how the season is going. Stone crabs are a treat, a high end meal so production which drives retail price is key. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the last two years have been the lowest in production of stone crab claws to date, bringing in about 1.9 million pounds. The low numbers were due to a blood virus that ravaged the crabs. The virus is caused by Red Tide which has appeared the last two years in Florida Bay. “No sign of the virus this year,” according to Capt. Bill Kelly president of Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.
The average Stone Crab take in past years has been about 3 million pounds before the recent slump. A mid week informal survey by atombash.com reveals that fish house operators are optimistic that the stone crab harvest will be much more bountiful and the result will be lower prices for retail consumers. Early on at local markets in Miami prices hovered around $19.99 per pound for medium crabs with jumbos in the $32.99 range. A dozen medium claws which can make a great meal for two can cost just shy of $40 dollars. Gary Graves from Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida tells atombash.com says during the first week of the season seas were rough and not that many crabbers pulled traps but this week there is a good up-tick in yield as traps are beginning to fill up. That means that for a while Florida consumers will benefit from reasonable prices. When the tourists arrive and snow birds invade the prices trend upward. Cheaper boat fuel and higher yields will lure more crabbers into laying additional trap lines which will hopefully produce more crabs and keep prices within reason. This week at the Keys Fisheries Bar a good sized single crab claw goes for $2.50. Not a bad bargain for as long as it lasts. Captain Bill Kelly is quick to remind consumers that the crabs are a delicacy and “there’s always a strong demand for the claws, it’s never been a bargain item.”