Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stone Crab Season is Around the Corner!

In 5 days seafood lovers will be able to get fresh stone crab claws as the season officially opens October 15th. This of course, doesn't mean the stone crab fishermen haven't been busy. For the past several weeks, they have been making last minute repairs to their vessels and old traps, contstructing new traps, and taking inventory of their their gear and supplies. Stone crabs are one of Florida's most valuable commercial fisheries in the state. In 2009 2.6 million claws were landed with an estimated value of $17 million.
Collier County, in particular, is recognized as one of the leading commercial harvesters in Florida second only to Monroe County. In 2009 approximately 639,646 pounds of claws were landed in the county with an estimated dockside value of $4.2 million.
The commercial stone crab fishery is managed by a seven month open season (October 15-May 15), minimum claw size requirement (2 3/4 inches), trap specifications, and a passive trap limitation program. Female crabs with eggs are also prohibited from being harvested.
The fact that only the claws are taken and the crab is not killed helps ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery. Fishing pressure, however, remains high and this is reflected by a general decreasing trend in catch-per-trap over time. For example between the 1962-63 and 2001-02 seasons the number of traps used in the fishery increased 100 fold from 15,000 traps to 1.6 million traps (In 2002 the state legislature implemented a trap limitation program to reduce the number of trap entering the fishery). Estimates for stone crab population distribution, abundance, and recruitment patterns, however, have remained steady for the past 20 to 30 years.

Stone crabs are harvested primarily using baited traps. Commonly used bait included pig's feet, mullet, and/or fish carcasses. Traps are typically constructed of wood or plastic, but wire traps are also allowed. Plastic traps are required to have a degradable wood panel to minimize bycatch if the trap is lost or abandoned. Traps are deployed in long lines of up to 100 traps where each individual trap is buoyed. A single operation may have thousands of traps in the water at a time though. Trap buoys (and vessels) are marked with the letter "X" and a permit number specific to each harvester and every trap must have a valid permit tag attached to it. Fishermen may only work their traps during daylight hours and traps are retrieved approximately every 10 to 12 days using a mechanical winch. It is important to remember that it is a third degree felony for tampering with someone else’s traps (or their content), lines, or buoys. In addition to criminal penalties, violators can be fined $5,000 and lose their saltwater fishing privileges.

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