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Small Harvest Leaves Florida Stone Crabbers In A Pinch

Stone Crab
Flickr/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision
This season's stone crab harvest is historically low, red tide is getting some of the blame.

There is one more victim of the red tide outbreak that plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast last year. This season’s stone crab harvest is among the state's lowest, according to seafood industry experts.

Estimates show only 1.9 million pounds were collected during the season, reports NationalFisherman.com.

The season ran from Oct. 15, 2018 to May 15, 2019. An average season ranges between 2.5 and 3.2 million pounds.

According to Bill Kelly, the executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, red tide is to blame.

The algae bloom cut off oxygen to the seafloor in Florida’s southern waters, forcing the crabs to move to other areas in search of better conditions.

"Stone crabs are typical burrowing animals, we affectionately call them ditch diggers, and they didn't have any mud to dig a ditch, and so they had to move on,” said Kelly.

He said other environmental factors, like hurricanes from the past few years, are also at fault. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 disrupted typical migratory patterns and destroyed stone crab traps.

“And what (Hurricane) Irma did when it moved through the Florida Bay and the southern end of the Florida peninsula... it stripped mud and soft sediments off the bottom down to cap rock,” said Kelly.

With such a small stone crab harvest and high consumer demand, fishermen say they are selling their catch wholesale for around $15 per pound for small claws and up to $45 per pound for jumbos.

And as for future harvests, Kelly says it's anybody's guess.

“We're always cautiously optimistic that Mother Nature will be kind to us. You know, we've seen the devastating effects of (this year’s Hurricane) Dorian and (2018’s Tropical Storm) Alberto,” Kelly said. “So keep your fingers crossed.”

Manelle Kheireddine is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for fall 2019.
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