“Lousy” crab season ends just as badly as it started

By Steve Estes

What the commercial fishing industry is calling “the worst” stone crab season in recent memory ended Wednesday just as badly as it started.

“The first catches of the season were bad. Then they got worse,” said Bob Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood on Cudjoe Key.

In the last couple of years, Monroe County’s commercial fishing fleet has accounted for more than one million pounds of the overall three million pounds of stone crab caught in Florida waters, accounting for nearly $12 million dollars in revenue to the local economy.

Those numbers for this year will be well below previous numbers although not known for some weeks yet.

Prices to the boats remained good throughout the season, said Holloway. “But there was no product to sell.”

He said some of the local fishermen began pulling traps from the water weeks ago in response to the lousy season.

Prices to the boats were up a few dollars over last year, “so the fishermen who had catch were doing all right, but very few had any catch,” said Holloway.

Local fishermen usually wait for the cooler waters of winter to realize their best stone crab harvests, but water temperatures remained unseasonably high this year, and with escalating global temperatures for longer periods, no one is sure what that brings for the3 future of stone crab harvests here.

Holloway said that the events surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may also be having some residual effects on seafood harvests.

“No one can say for sure, but some of that oil is still out there, and the effects of  the dispersants are still out there.”

Of course, it is possible that the stone crab fishery has reached its peak of productivity and needs some time to recover, said Holloway. “Only the future holds those answers.”

The lousy crab season comes on the heels of a weak lobster as well and could put some of the smaller local fishermen in a deep hole financially through the summer months and early into next lobster season, which opens August 6.

“We won’t have any idea whether this year was unusual until we see what next season brings,” said Holloway. “If things stay this bad, a lot of fishermen will be gone and looking for other work.”

Some of Holloway’s boat captains said there were more days than not when they didn’t pay for the price of getting the boat underway with the crab harvest they brought back to the dock.

“By the time they pay for fuel, bait, a mate and upkeep on the boat, catches in the tens of pounds don’t pay the bills,” he said.

Those commercial fishermen who have scale fish licenses are hoping that the current run on mahi-mahi continues well into the summer, but early numbers for that fishery aren’t what they have been in recent years, either, says Holloway.

“The king fish net wasn’t what it should have been, and the snapper and grouper catch this year has been off, as well,” he said.

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