Stone crab season starts slow, prices expected to be higher

Processor Keith Ellis sorts stone crab claws during the first day of stone crab season at Kelly's Fish House in Naples on Oct. 15, 2010. During the 2008-2009 season, 2.6 million pounds of stone crab claws were harvested in the state of Florida including 640,000 pounds on the Paradise Coast. Stone crabs are the number one commercial fishery in the region. The first Stone Crab Festival will be held at Tin City on Oct. 23-24. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Processor Keith Ellis sorts stone crab claws during the first day of stone crab season at Kelly's Fish House in Naples on Oct. 15, 2010. During the 2008-2009 season, 2.6 million pounds of stone crab claws were harvested in the state of Florida including 640,000 pounds on the Paradise Coast. Stone crabs are the number one commercial fishery in the region. The first Stone Crab Festival will be held at Tin City on Oct. 23-24. Greg Kahn/Staff

Video from NBC-2

— A slow start to stone crab season Friday in Collier County could mean higher prices for the tasty morsels at the seafood market this weekend.

“The catches are not fantastic,” said Howie Grimm, owner of Grimm’s Stonecrab in Everglades City. “It’s a pretty slow start.”

A survey of seafood markets in Naples and Everglades City earlier Friday found prices ranging from $11 to $12.99 per pound for medium claws and from $22 to $23.99 per pound for jumbo.

Stone crab season runs until May 15, and prices will fluctuate depending on supply and demand.

“You just never know,” said Captain Jerry’s Seafood manager Chris Aldrich.

Old-timers say stone crabbers can go crazy trying to predict what will make a season good or bad.

Conventional wisdom holds that muddy water churned up by stormy weather or by passing cold fronts is good for catching crabs because they stay on the move.

If temperatures get too cold, though, the crabs bury themselves and hunker down.

“It’s all about the crawling around,” said Ryan Gandy, stone crab researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Gandy said the agency’s year-round stone crab monitoring program that started five years ago is not pointing to a particularly good or bad season this year.

Last year’s record cold snap was tough on stone crabbers, who are hoping for a good season after a long hot summer punctuated by the BP oil spill.

The poor economy has not helped crabbers either, with fewer people willing to shell out for the local delicacy.

For the 2008-2009 season, crabbers in Collier County landed 623,404 pounds of stone crab claws with a dockside value of $3.9 million, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

That compares to preliminary data from last year’s season that showed landings of 538,751 pounds with a dockside value of $4.7 million.

Late Friday afternoon, Rick Rinella whisked 250 pounds of this year’s catch in his back seat to Truluck’s in downtown Naples for diners anxious for this season’s first bite.

Rinella, managing partner of Truluck’s, said the restaurant had 300 reservations for Friday night.

Truluck’s contracts with 20 crabbers, based out of Isles of Capri and Goodland, with 50,000 traps in the water to supply its restaurants in California, Texas and Florida.

Those boats hauled in 1,700 pounds Friday, short of the 3,000 pounds Truluck’s was hoping to ship out, Rinella said.

“The crabbers are happy,” Rinella said. “Are they elated? Not yet.”

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

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