Stone crab outlook hopeful

By Steve Estes

Another stone crab season opens Monday and local fishermen are hopeful that the season will be a strong one to make up for what has thus far been a lousy lobster season.

“Lobster season started off not as good as usual and then just fell apart,” said Bobby Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood on Cudjoe Key. “Everybody is hoping that crab season is a whole lot better.”

Commercial fishermen began soaking traps Friday and will start pulling them come Monday.

Local fishermen reported that stone crab began showing up in lobster traps just before Tropical Storm Isaac swept across the Keys, but once they were cleared, they didn’t return…and neither did the lobster.

Holloway said that last crab season was “not too bad. Not the next we’ve seen but far from the worst.”

And that followed a very good lobster season in 2011-2012.

This year, however, it will take a good crab season to make up for the lousy lobster season.

There is high demand for the stone crab claws in the first two or three weeks of season, then it tails off somewhat until the holidays when it peaks again. The season remains open until May 16.

Last year, fishermen earned about $14 per pound for jumbo claws, $11 per pound for large claws and $5 per pound for medium claws.

“We won’t have any idea what the prices will be this year to start off until we see what the catch is on Monday,” said Holloway. “If the catch is bad, the prices might be higher. If it’s good, we don’t know.”

In a normal season, Keys’ commercial fishermen harvest about two million pounds of stone crab claws, supplying nearly 65 percent of the demand. The remainder of the harvest comes from boats on Florida’s west coast.

Seafood aficionados craving their first taste of stone crab may get lucky and be able to get some later Monday afternoon, said Holloway, “But more than likely it will be Tuesday morning.”

Once the seafood houses receive the product it must be cooked for delivery to customers and graded for payment to the fishermen.

“If you’re eating ‘fresh’ stone crab before Monday night, more than likely it’s been frozen for awhile,” said Holloway.

The local stone crab harvest is normally worth about $23 million to the local boats. Retail customers generally pay just slightly more than double the wholesale price at the counter.

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