Published: Mar 14, 2013 11:28 AM EDT

MIAMI (AP) - A poor stone crab harvest is driving up the price of the seafood delicacy.
    
Commercial fishermen across South Florida are reporting their catches have been down since the season opened Oct. 15. The low inventory is driving up prices at restaurants and markets.
    
Gary Graves, who runs Keys Fisheries in Marathon, told The Miami Herald his each of his five boats recently averaged less than 200 pounds of stone crabs. That's down 40 percent over last season.
    
Graves, whose company is a major supplier for Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach, said some fishermen are pulling in their traps well in advance of the end of the season on May 15.
    
The shortage is affecting restaurants like Joe's.
    
Steven Sawitz, whose family owns the restaurant, said they're holding daily "crab meetings" to figure out how to manage the reduced supply. The price has risen to as much as $80 a pound for takeout jumbos at Joe's market, up from $60 a pound in previous years.
    
"We've had to promote other products - Alaskan king crab claws and legs," Sawitz said.
    
Kathryn Birren, co-owner of Hernando Beach Seafood north of Tampa, said they've talked about shutting down their fish house for a while, something they've never considered. "It's really bad," she added.
    
A fishing trip can cost up to $1,200 a day in expenses, covering fuel, crew and bait. Sometimes, the catch doesn't even cover the cost of the trip.
    
"No one is making money," Graves told The Herald.
    
There are many theories about what's causing the shortage, including back-to-back warmer winters which have caused a proliferation of stone crab-eating octopus in the Gulf of Mexico, the BP oil spill and outbreaks of red tide.
    
Ryan Gandy, a researcher for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, offers some hope that things could improve before the season ends.
    
"Stone crabs migrate. They move around," he said. "The season ain't over till it's over. We've got a couple of months left."
    
The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/ZOj4RW ) reports they're holding daily "crab meetings" at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach to figure out how to manage the lower inventory. Stephen Sawitz says they're promoting other products, such as Alaskan crab legs.
    
Gary Graves - owner of Keys Fisheries in Marathon and one of Joe's main suppliers - says catches are down 40 percent. In a normal year each of his boats average 250 to 300 pounds of stone crabs per trip. Recently, they averaged less than 200 pounds of stone crabs
    
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Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com

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