Im­por­tance of stone crabs can be seen all over Florida

The Bradenton Herald - - News - BY ALEXIS SCHOFIELD

Like many other as­pects of the sea­sons, fall in Florida is dif­fer­ent from many other states.

While our north­ern friends are en­joy­ing chang­ing leaves and cooler weather, we are en­joy­ing the start of an­other sea­son: stone crab sea­son.

Al­though this crab can be found from North Carolina to Mex­ico, Florida is the only place you can com­mer­cially har­vest them.

Florida fish­er­men have been har­vest­ing stone crabs since the 1890s and its im­por­tance can be seen all over the state.

In Manatee County, it is be­lieved that our first stone crab trap­per was Jack Moore, who be­gan har­vest­ing in the late 1920s. Moore lived in Cortez and sold his har­vested stone crab claws at the re­tail mar­kets in Manatee County.

In the late 1920s, Florida law be­gan to es­tab­lish reg­u­la­tions on gear, the sea­son of har­vest and more. The state found the man­age­ment of the stone crab fish­ery to be of high im­por­tance since 99 per­cent of the land­ings are in Florida’s coastal wa­ters.

How­ever, a Fish­eries Man­age­ment Plan (FMP) was not cre­ated and im­planted un­til 1979. There was a need in the com­mu­nity to cre­ate a FMP for stone crabs on Florida’s Gulf Coast due to gear con­flicts be­tween shrimpers and stone crab­bers.

The FMP was pre­pared by a Gulf Coun­cil Task Team directed by the South­east Fish­eries Cen­ter, Na­tional Ma­rine Fish­eries Ser­vice in an ef­fort to make stone crab­bing safer for both those har­vest­ing and the crabs.

Both recre­ational and com­mer­cial fish­er­men may trap and har­vest stone crabs dur­ing sea­son, which is Oct. 15 un­til May 15.

Stone crab­bers use va­ri­ety of meth­ods to catch and har­vest th­ese crabs in­clud­ing stone crab trips, dip nets or a land­ing net. Un­like many other crabs, how­ever, this process should not kill the an­i­mal.

In­stead of tak­ing the en­tire crab as other fish­eries do, the trap­pers take only one of the claws (typ­i­cally the larger one) and re­lease the crab back into the wa­ter where the claw is re­gen­er­ated. Due to this, the crab is able to de­fend it­self and an­other claw can be har­vested the fol­low­ing year.

Ad­di­tion­ally, claws must be a le­gal length of 2.75 inches and the fish­er­men must use proper tools. Fish­er­men can­not use hooks, spears, grabs or trains to cap­ture the crabs. There are also reg­u­la­tions on the place­ment of traps and what kind of traps may be used.

Stone crabs live in es­tu­ar­ies, near grass beds, where adults dig bur­rows un­der the sea grasses or ex­ca­vate holes un­der rocks. Al­though their en­vi­ron­ment can vary, they pre­fer muddy bot­toms that are near oyster beds.

Stone crabs are usu­ally right handed, and are pri­mar­ily car­niv­o­rous, us­ing their pow­er­ful claws to crush the shells of oys­ters, mol­lusks, scal­lops and clams. They will also con­sume plants as needed.

This year our com­mu­nity cel­e­brates with the seventh an­nual Cortez Stone Crab and Mu­sic Fes­ti­val hosted by Sword­fish Grill & Tiki Bar on Satur­day and Sun­day.

A por­tion of the pro­ceeds from the fes­ti­val go to­ward com­mer­cial fish­er­men salaries af­fected by red tide. The fes­ti­val also col­lected toys for those af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Michael in the pan­han­dle.

To learn more about Florida and its fish­ing her­itage, in­clud­ing stone crab trap­ping, con­sider com­ing by the Florida Mar­itime Mu­seum on Dec. 8 for the in­au­gu­ral Mar­itime by Can­dle­light event.

Vis­i­tors will ex­pe­ri­ence “Old Florida” through a can­dlelit tour of the mu­seum, sto­ry­telling, live mu­sic, shell or­na­ment ac­tiv­ity and an 11th an­niver­sary “mar­itime themed” light cer­e­mony.

Fes­tiv­i­ties will take place on mu­seum grounds from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit Flori­daMar­itimeMu­seum.org or call us at (941) 708-6120.

Visit us Tues­day through Satur­day from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is free but do­na­tions are ap­pre­ci­ated.

Pro­vided photo

Recre­ational and com­mer­cial fish­er­men can trap and har­vest stone crabs dur­ing sea­son, which is Oct. 15 un­til May 15.

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