Life of a stone crab fisherman: Part two

Speck, at the helm, and one of his employees, at the start of the stone crab season.
Photo by Wendell Brown

Speck, at the helm, and one of his employees, at the start of the stone crab season. Photo by Wendell Brown

An employee of Jonathan Speck's company, Crab Wolf LLC, throws a buoy tied to a crab trap at the start of the stone crab season.
Photo by Wendell Brown

An employee of Jonathan Speck's company, Crab Wolf LLC, throws a buoy tied to a crab trap at the start of the stone crab season. Photo by Wendell Brown

Jonathan Speck pilots his boat out to sea in preparation of the start of the stone crab season.
Photo by Wendell Brown

Jonathan Speck pilots his boat out to sea in preparation of the start of the stone crab season. Photo by Wendell Brown

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of three articles about the just-opened stone crab season. It describes the Everglades City stone crab business and follows Jonathan Speck, a stone crab fisherman in Everglades City.

- - -

During the off season, you may see Jonathan Speck with his dog Markus, traveling down the highway in his pickup. He may be getting a part to repair his boat, getting some paint for his crab traps or driving out to help someone else.

Bartering and trading labor is very common among crabbers. However, during stone crab season, Oct. 15 to May 15, each crabbers lifestyle changes. Suddenly, there will not be enough hours in each day to harvest traps.

Speck’s business, Crab Wolf LLC, is small compared to other crabbers. He has about 2,000 traps while others have more than 10,000 traps. He has one boat, a 24-foot Morgan, and it’s the smallest among crab boats. His boat travels slower and carries less traps. His key to success is putting in more hours and catching more stone crabs per trap. He puts in 14 to 15 hours each day. These hours will get shorter as daylight gets shorter. However, to make a profit, each trap must yield more stone crabs. Getting a higher yield per trap means picking the right locations to set your traps.

Stone crabs hang in groups along the bottom of the Gulf floor. Predicting the location or travel direction of crab groups is the success of any crabbers business. Water currents, temperatures, wind directions, Gulf floor formations and phases of the moon all affect their movement. Stone crabs are active during the darkest phases of the moon. They hide during a full moon. The ideal conditions for catching stone crabs include a dark moon, a northwestern wind direction and a muddy Gulf floor. Ideal conditions are rare.

The honor system encompasses the stone crab business. Traps are stored on docks without being fenced in from theft. Traps are set each season with an understanding that another crabber will not rob your trap of its stone crabs. However, crabbers never let their guard down and they have their own way of knowing if their trap has been robbed. These are trade secrets they will not divulge.

On the afternoon of Oct. 4, the loading of crab traps started. Each trap was being pulled from the stack of thousands, put on a rolling ramp and pushed to the next person. The trap lid was flung open, a pig’s foot was placed in the bait box, the lid was slammed shut, latched and the trap was again pushed up the rolling ramp to the next person.

Speck and his workers baited and loaded traps on two boats. These boats left the dock soon after midnight on Oct. 5 to set the traps on the Gulf floor. The two boats returned early morning and loaded again for another trip into the waters to set traps. These runs continued until about 2,000 traps were set. Harvesting started Wednesday, Oct. 15, and Speck reports that this year’s stone crab catch is starting slow for everyone.

The season has started and continues until May 15, 2010. What the entire season will bring is unknown. Many risks will be taken by all crabbers. The hope is that the catch will be good and everyone will be safe.

- - -

On Saturday, Oct. 17, the writer, Wendell H. Brown, spent 15 hours stone crabbing on the water with Jonathan Speck. The third and final article is a detailed story of a day in the life of a stone crab fisherman.

Wendell Brown, a Naples photographer, can be reached at info@whbrownphotography.com or (239) 784-7609. His Web site is whbrownphotography.com. Jonathan Speck may be reached at (239) 821-7493.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features