FWC shortens stone crab season in order to increase population

Published: July 22, 2020 7:45 PM EDT

Florida’s stone crab population is dwindling, and that has the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission making changes to its recreational and commercial stone crab regulations.

Wednesday, the FWC approved changes due to the “likely overfishing” of stone crabs.

Florida Stone Crabbers Association told WINK News, “They never addressed the potential impact of COVID-19 with the impact of recreational harvest. We fear that industry’s working relationship with the FWC has been irrevocably damaged.”

The changes, which go into effect on October 1, 2020, decreases stone crab season in order to increase the stone crab population:

Approved changes include:

  • Moving the season end date from May 15 to May 1, closed on May 2
  • Requiring a 2 3/16-inch escape ring in all plastic and wood stone crab traps before the start of the 2023/2024 season
  • Increasing the minimum claw size limit by 1/8 inches from 2 3/4 inches to 2 7/8
  • Limiting possession of whole stone crabs on the water to two checker boxes, each up to 3 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet OR a total volume of 24 cubic feet. Checker boxes are used to hold crabs onboard a vessel before they are measured and legal-sized claws are removed

FWC says the shortened season and other new limits are necessary to sustain Florida stone crabs, whose large, meaty claws are removed and served boiled with melted butter or mustard sauce.

The agency’s scientists said many crabs don’t survive their claws being removed, and crabs have been overharvested since the late 1990s. Its data, challenged as inaccurate by the commercial crabbing industry, showed the fewest pounds of stone crab claws harvested since 1986 during the season that ended last year.

Commercial crabbers across Florida are concerned the new limits will cut their profit margins or even force them out of business especially as restaurants and their suppliers across Florida suffered losses from mandatory closures during the pandemic.