Florida shortens stone crab season over industry objections

In this May 16, 2020 photo, crab fisherman Capt. Kelly Kofmehl stands on the edge of his boat in Crystal River, Fla. The boat can fit about 650 stone crab traps at a time. (Lauren Witte/Fresh Take Florida)

By: The Associated Press
May 23, 2020

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s $30 million stone crab industry is snapping mad over the state’s decision to reduce by five weeks the seven-month harvest season for what is widely considered a classic but expensive delicacy in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 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 said the shorter season was expected to reduce the amount of claws harvested each year by at least 10%.

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 industry, showed the fewest pounds of stone crab claws harvested since 1986 during the season that ended last year.

Commercial crabbers across Florida are pushing back, worried that new limits will cut their profit margins or even force them out of business. It’s unclear how the new restrictions might affect next year’s table prices. A dinner portion of jumbo-size claws can run more than $100 at fine restaurants. The meat is mild and slightly sweet with a texture similar to lobster.

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