Methods for Harvesting Florida Stone Crabs

In Florida, when it comes to outdoor activities, fishing is tough to beat. However, the Sunshine State is home to an incredible array of natural resources and many different opportunities to harvest fresh food. Besides the fresh fish enjoyed by countless outdoor enthusiasts, the state’s widespread shellfish presence should not be overlooked. Among the different delicious shellfish species in our waters, the stone crab one of the most revered on the dinner table. Many gladly pay exorbitant prices for these delectable claws, but would harvesting stone crabs myself be that difficult? -Earl Jones

Though this species, Menippe mercenaria, is called the Florida stone crab, its range actually spans a great distance within the western Atlantic. This range includes the Atlantic coast of the United States from North Carolina to Florida, around the Sunshine State to Texas and down to Belize, as well as Cuba and The Bahamas. Despite this range, the stone crab fishery in Florida makes up about 99 percent of all stone crab landings in the United States, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

For those who wish to skip the high prices and hit-or-miss availability of fresh, local stone crabs, there are mainly two methods of harvest. Trapping is by far the most popular and, in many cases, the most effective method, but freedivers can also jump in the water themselves to grab them one by one. With either method, the most challenging part of the process is usually finding the right areas to dive or deploy traps. Getting dialed in on a good stretch of water will likely require a good amount of trial and error, but the prize is well worth the effort. Stone crabs inhabit shallow water, usually no deeper than 10 or 15 feet, burrowing themselves into the holes they dig in areas that feature soft bottom including sand, mud or seagrass, particularly within or near rocky outcroppings or reef systems.

Diving for stone crabs takes a bit of fearlessness, as these crustaceans are usually often found deep in their holes. If you find a stone crab hole, the only way to get a crab out is, you guessed it, by reaching in, grabbing it and quickly pulling it out before it has the chance to pinch you. The best way to cover promising areas is to have the driver of the boat tow divers at idle speed. As a diver, when you see a hole, make sure someone on board knows you’ve let go of the tow rope and you’re going to investigate the area. There should always be a designated person on board to have eyes on the divers at all times. It seems daunting, but after a few successful grabs, you’ll get the hang of it. If you ultimately decide to implement this strategy, remember to invest in a good pair of dive gloves with plenty of padding, always dive with a buddy and never stay down for too long.

For trappers, the process is much simpler but still requires attention to detail. When you find an area where you want to deploy your traps, be sure you’re not dropping your trap or trap line too close or over anyone else’s. Furthermore, make sure your traps are clearly marked so boaters can avoid running them over. Stone crabs are scavengers, so effective trap baits range from unwanted fish scraps and carcasses to spoiled meats and even pig feet.

These crabs are unique in that only the claws are harvested and the crab itself is released alive. And while it’s legal to harvest both claws per crab, it leaves the crab defenseless against predators and inhibited in feeding. The minimum size limits 2⅞inches from the tip of the claw to the first joint, with a bag limit of one gallon of claws per harvester or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less. Specially designed stone crab claw measuring tools make the process simple. Legal gear includes traps (no more than five per person) and dip nets or landing nets, while stone crab harvest is open from Oct. 15 through May 1 in state waters. Devices that can puncture, crush or injure the crab body, such as spears, grains, grabs or hooks are strictly prohibited.

An additional set of rules applies to trappers. Harvesters over the age of 16 are required to complete an online, no-cost registration (available at gooutdoorsflorida.com) before deploying traps. Upon completion, each registrant will receive a unique trap registration number that, along with the trapper’s full name and address, must be included on each trap. Traps can be made from wood, wire or plastic with a maximum trap size of 24” x 24” x 24” or 8 cubic feet and throat or entrance that must be 51⁄2” by 3½” (throat must be no larger than 5½” by3⅛”inCollier, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties). Furthermore, if the throat entrance is round, it cannot exceed 5 inches in diameter. For important additional trap regulations regarding degradable panels, escape rings and more, visit myfwc.com.

Source: https://floridasportfishing.com/methods-for-harvesting-florida-stone-crabs/