Gulf Bounty: Start of stone crab season
Caught, cooked, sorted and sold
There’s a palpable air of expectation down at Capri Fisheries on opening stone crab season day as the first boat noses into sight.
Dockside, the mainly Cuban staff chatter away in Spanish as the craft gets closer.
Aboard are two seasoned Cuban salts, who clearly aren’t enamored by the presence of just a single media representative.
One gruffly declines any comment, other than to say the opening haul is 86 pounds of the uniquely Floridian seafood delicacy.
After the paperwork is done, 75-year-old Pedro Rives quickly swings into action.
The stone crab claws must be boiled within minutes of unloading, otherwise the meat sticks to the shells, he explains.
The boiling is done in a massive stainless steel pot, after which the claws are transferred to cold water for about 15 minutes and then shifted to another room for sorting.
That task falls upon Celia Suarez, who separates the claws into “jumbo,” “large” and “medium” batches with a quickness of hand that would make a card shark envious.
Jumbo claws, incidentally, must weigh 5.1 or more ounces, while large ones are between 3.1 and 5 oz. Mediums weigh between 2 and 5 ounces.
Capri Fisheries General Manager Antonio Almazan relies on a fleet of about 16 independent crabbers for his supplies, which he distributes mainly to the affiliated Truluck’s chain of restaurants.
He does supply some local restaurants and wholesalers, though.
Local crab boats ply a radius of about 35 miles in the Gulf, and the crabbers usually respect each other’s traps, Almazan says.
“They also have secret spots of their own,” he says.
As for this year’s pricing, Almazan says it’s hard to pin down.
“It’s all about supply and demand,” he says.
Scott Young of Paradise Seafood & Gourmet Market on Marco Island, said prices at the moment are around $10 to $12 a pound for medium claws, $18 for large, and $21 for jumbo claws. He said prices may fluctuate depending on supply and demand, and said this week’s cold front might indeed contribute to higher yields because stone crabs move around more adventurously in churned up, slightly murky water.
Florida stone crabs prefer the bottoms of bays, grass flats, oyster reefs, and rock jetties where they can burrow or find refuge from predators, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission information.
With a lifespan of about seven to eight years, the stone crab loses its limbs easily to escape from predators or tight spaces, but the limbs will grow back.
During harvesting, when a claw is broken in the right place, the wound will quickly heal itself and very little blood is lost.
Thus, the stone crab is every bit a renewable food source.
It takes about a year for the claw to grow back to its normal size, and each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger.
The larger of the two claws is called the “crusher claw”. The smaller claw is called the “pincer claw”.
If both claws are legal size (at least 2.75 inches) they may both be taken, although this is not recommended because it leaves the crab defenseless and unable to acquire food.
Traps, secured to buoys, are made either of wood or plastic, and are generally baited with fish heads and pigs feet.