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Merchants, customers hit by disappointing stone crab season

stone crabs
Posted at 4:35 PM, May 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-15 16:35:00-04

CORTEZ, FLA. -- The Star Fish Company Seafood Market weighed and gauges some the last stone crab claws of the season on Thursday. It has been a stone crab season manger Laurie Jones describes like this:

“Feast or famine, we either have them or we don’t. A lot of times this year we have not had enough for the restaurant, we've only had enough for the market.”

She says the shortage has made some of her customers upset at times.

“We have ruined peoples Thanksgivings and Christmases but we've made it through another season,” said Jones with a smile.

“It is not the greatest season this year or last year,” said Carolyn Doid, assistant manger of the A.P. Bell Fish Company. She says stone crab shortage in Suncoast waters caused prices to climb for customers and for the fisherman.

“Our medium claws are $16 a pound and the large jumbo mix are $22 a pound. It is pretty high for stone crabs but worth every penny when they are not around.”

This was the first crab fishing season for Gerald Whipper.

“We were pulling up traps We pull up like 300 traps, maybe 4 and bringing in 20-30 pounds,” said Whipper.

While the numbers were down on the Suncoast, Ryan Gandy, a research scientist with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says it is too early to tell how the season will conclude statewide. He says the stone crab harvest in the last four years has been within the 10 year average.

The higher prices did not stop Al Washington from buying claws to take back home with him to Cincinnati.

“I was able to get the mediums which are considered extra large where I am from. I got three pounds believe it or not. One pound will be for tonight and two pounds will go back with me.”

The stone crab season officially ends at midnight on May 15, but fisherman are not allowed to harvest after dark. Fish markets and restaurants can sell any stone crab claws they have in stock which will not last very long.