Vol 7 No. 4 - October 18, 2006

Stone crab season opens strong


PHOTO/SHARON O’CONNOR
Boxes are filled with stone crab claws that made their way to local dinner tables by Sunday night.

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

The race was on Sunday morning as stone crab season started, and the crabs were more than willing to set a hot pace.

As gusty winds whipped the waters, local crabbers headed for their traps well before sunrise Sunday. What they found was likely to put smiles on their faces and thousands of pounds of the savory crab claws on plates throughout Florida during the next few weeks.

"It looks good," said Captain Mike Greig, of Captain Mike’s Charters from his boat Monday. "They’re big and they’re beautiful."

Greig brought in 320 pounds of claws on Sunday and he didn’t even pull all of his traps.

Captain Kim Ibasfalean said her brother-in-law, Brian, also brought in hundreds of pounds when he went out Sunday. She said he got an extra early start and reported that it looks like it’s going to be a good season.

The demand for stone crabs, as usual, starts on the first day of the season. Robert Hicks, of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key, said they started serving them yesterday at 11:30 a.m. for lunch.

"That’s only the second time in all the years I have worked here that we’ve gotten them in that early," he said. "Quite a few crabbers have been calling offering to sell us claws. We have about 12 main suppliers we use up and down the coast, including our local sellers."

Both Ibasfalean and Greig said stone crab season are cyclical, but there is more to it.

"Red tide hasn’t been as bad this year," said Ibasfalean. "Stone crabs don’t like red tide, so they leave. It’s not like blue crabs, which don’t mind red tide. They stay and are plentiful."

Ibasfalean said the weather also plays a part.

"Hopefully, the weather will stay kind of like it is," she said. "If it’s too rough, it’s too hard to get out there. If it’s too smooth, they bury up and won’t come near the traps."

Hicks said that last year’s red tide outbreak was probably the reason the supply was so bad.

"We had a ton of light claws, but not a lot of jumbos," he said. "It’s probably due to a lot of dead fish from the red tide. Crabs are scavengers, but they probably won’t eat fish that have been dead on the bottom for a few days."

Hicks said they got in 1,500 pounds of claws Sunday, and only five pounds were the lighter size.

Ibasfalean said stone crabbers could use a good season.

"The last couple of years have been really tough," she said. "It would be nice to pay off some of those bills."

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