In 46 years as a commercial fisherman, Gary Graves says he has never seen a stone crab harvest season as poor as this one. Graves, who runs Keys Fisheries in Marathon — the main supplier for Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach — says his catches are down 40 percent since the season opened Oct 15.
"For some reason, they're not here," Graves said of Florida's signature seafood delicacy.
He said five of his boats recently averaged less than 200 pounds per trip among them. In a normal year, each boat should bring in 250 to 300 pounds. Some fishermen, he said, are giving up and bringing in their traps well before the harvest ends on May 15.
Stephen Sawitz, whose family owns the iconic, century-old Joe's, says he's holding daily "crab meetings" with his staff to figure out how to manage inventory.
"The demand did outreach the supply this year," Sawitz said. "I have to cut off large and jumbo when a certain amount have run through the restaurant. We've had to promote other products — Alaskan king crab claws and legs."
The impact is being felt up and down Florida's west coast.
Worst season we've ever seen," said Candice Jolly, manager of City Seafood in Everglades City. "Normally, they'd bring in 800 pounds; now they're bringing in 28 pounds. It's awful."
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