With an impending stone crab season opening, Southwest Florida fishermen whose boats and traps survived Hurricane Ian are working hard to get back on the water.
On San Carlos Island, the commercial fishing homeport of devastated Fort Myers Beach, stranded shrimpers continue doing what they can to repair boats in the state’s largest fleet. But much heavy equipment is needed for the task ahead.
“There’s 300 people who work for us and all of them are out of a job right now,” Jesse Clapham, fleet manager at Erickson and Jensen Seafood told the Associated Press. “I’m sure they’d rather just mow all this stuff down and build a giant condo here, but we’re not going to give up.”
One surviving shrimp vessel reportedly was fishing early this week. North of the Matanzas Pass shrimp port, trucks were able to cross the Sanibel Island causeway Tuesday after temporary repairs.
Commercial fishermen who live on Matlacha and Pine Island got limited road access back after improvised bridge repairs. Florida Sea Grant has been posting updates online for how fishing and aquaculture operators can find resources and potential federal aid for recovery.
Stone crab fishermen fixed boats and salvaged gear in hopes of getting back to work when the season opens Oct.15.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission waived commercial stone crab trap tag requirements for the 2022-2023 season.
Commercial fishermen licensed to harvest stone crabs with traps are not required to affix trap tags to their traps in state and federal waters off St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler, Volusia, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. Trap tags are still required on commercial stone crab traps in all other state and federal waters off Florida.
The waiver will extend through the end of the 2022-2023 commercial stone crab harvest season, including the 15-day post-season trap removal period.
“Hurricane Ian impacted a major portion of the Florida fishing community, and we will be with them every step of the way as they rebuild stronger than before,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto in announcing the waiver. “As we work with our partners and stakeholders to identify the needs of commercial fishers impacted by this powerful storm, we will continue to use all available resources to support them.”
The commission likewise waived trap tag requirements for spiny lobster fishermen in Florida waters.
The 120 mph winds and surge from Hurricane Ian destroyed or displaced up to 80 percent of the 50,000 to 70,000 lobster traps deployed in the Gulf of Mexico north of the Keys, estimated Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association.