Crab season off to slow start, optimism high

By Steve Estes

Opening day of stone crab season Tuesday wasn’t nearly as strong as had been hoped, but some of that is probably to blame on a still-hot lobster market.

Fanci Seafood owner Bobby Holloway, Cudjoe Key, said first-day catch for this season was down from last year, and last year was a dismal year for crab, but the industry hasn’t given up any hope for a rebound at this early juncture.

“I’ve had several fishermen tell me that they’re not going to pull crab traps until they’ve gotten what they can in lobster. It’s the better market right now for the fishermen.”

What makes that marker better right now is the slew of Chinese buyers still in town for the Florida Keys’ largest fishery, the spiny lobster.

At one point this year, the Chinese buyers were paying $18 per pound to the boats, about three times what the fish houses could afford to pay.

“Great for the fishermen. Bad for the fish house,” he said.

Stone crab season opened at a price that had some fishermen complaining, a complaint that was rectified on day two.

Tuesday, the price to the boat was $7 per pound for medium claws, $12 for large claws and $16 for jumbo claws. By Wednesday, after listening to fishermen complain about the price, the wholesale market increased to $8 per pound for mediums, $14 for large and $18 for jumbos.

“The crab catch has been slow coming in, but the Chinese are still out there buying lobster and it’s a more lucrative product for the boats right now,” said Holloway.

Last year’s dismal crab season saw high prices to the fishermen, but a dearth of product being caught.

Day two showed a slight increase in catch, Holloway says the season needs to pick up dramatically in the next week to avoid the dismal slump from last year.

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