Lee County, Fla. -- Lee County commercial fishermen average 134,213 pounds of stone crab claws each year. That's only five percent of the 2.72 million pounds of stone crab claws that commercial fishermen harvest each year in the state of Florida, making stone crabbing a $22.79 million industry for the Sunshine State. But you don't have to be a professional crabber to catch this tasty treat. Our News-Press Partner Kevin Lollar shows us how to safely and properly harvest a southwest Florida delicacy.
The rules for harvesting stone crabs are simple: no females with eggs; claws must be 2.75 inches; the season opens October 15 and closes May 15; the limit is one gallon of claws per person or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less.
We're three months into the season, and the harvest has been anything but abundant in the Florida Keys. Ryan Gandy, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who studies the stone crab fishery, says that he's hearing the commercial harvest for stone crab claws in Florida is down 30 to 40 percent this year for a combination of reasons. Warm weather and calm seas make stone crabs more inactive. Also, some areas are being hit by octopus, while others are being hit by red tide.