Published: May 12, 2014 7:58 AM EDT

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - Commercial fisherman are reporting record prices for stone crab claws this season - but only because the crabs were scarce in Florida waters.
    
Stone crab season closes at midnight Thursday.
    
Conch Key-based commercial fisherman Gary Nichols tells The Key West Citizen (http://bit.ly/1jiUOx4 ) that fish houses paid $25 to $30 a pound for jumbo-sized claws, $18 to $21 a pound for large claws and $8 to $11 a pound for medium claws.
    
But Nichols also says his harvests averaged a hundred pounds lighter than in previous years.
    
"The price made up for the catch," Nichols said. "We were lucky. There were no storms and prices were good."
    
This year's catch of stone crab claws was very low at 1.7 million pounds, said Tom Matthews, a fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, 2.7 million pounds of claws were harvested.
    
The stone crab fishery is fully exploited and claw sizes are down, which indicates that fishermen are catching them faster than they used to, Matthews said.
    
"We just hope the catch is better next year," said Keys Fisheries fish house owner Gary Graves, one of the largest commercial dealers of stone crabs. "A lot of restaurants took them off the menu, because they couldn't sell a $30, $40 and $50 item."
    
Stone crab season reopens Oct. 15.
    
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Information from: The Key West (Fla.) Citizen, http://www.keysnews.com

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