Fla. stone crab harvest strong again this year

While it’s the off-season, and the stone crabs are working on their self-improvement projects — regrowing a claw — it’s a good time to take stock of the season that ended in May.

“It was a better than average season on my boats,” said Jim Hanson, who operates out of Little Torch Key, Fla. “But the price was lower.”

“The dock price for the 2016 season averaged around $10 compared to the 2015 season around $15,” he said. “The size and quantities were good this past season, but the $10 average made us have to catch quantity to profit.”

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission numbers back that up. “This season was a continuation of the good harvest numbers from last season,” said spokeswoman Michelle Kerr. “The landings have recovered from their historically low levels of the 2013-14 season” (with 1.98 million pounds claw weight landed).

“Dockside price this year was lower than last and anecdotally cited as an issue this year along with a high volume of light crabs in Collier and northern Monroe Counties early in the season,” she added. “The northwest Cedar Key and Steinhatchee continued to have very high numbers of crabs this season, while the remainder of the fishery had good numbers of crabs available.”

As much as 98 percent of the U.S. stone crab harvest takes place in Florida waters, off both coasts. The preliminary total statewide for this past season is 2.9 million pounds, at a value of $30.6 million.

It was a good showing, but didn’t match the 2015-16 landings in pounds or dollar value, at 3.1 million pounds worth $33.4 million.

“It wasn’t a market where the prices went through the roof, but wasn’t a year when we had to eat it ourselves because we had so much. And I’ve seen it both ways down here,” said Robert Holloway, who has owned Fanci Seafood market on Cudjoe Key since 2001.

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Dayna Harpster is a Florida-based freelance writer.

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