We are in the heart of the stone crab season and for professional crabbers there is good news to report.
“The season is going pretty good right now,” says David Surber of Marker 8 restaurant in Goodland. “It started very slow but has picked up a lot and so far, so good.”
David also says the stone crabs are very popular with diners there.
With that as prologue, this probably is a good time to learn something about the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of the seafood loved by so many people.
For example, is there competition between crabbers and shrimpers in our waters? Why is the stone crab one of the most valuable products in the sea? And is there much poaching in the waters around and near Marco?
For some answers we turned to Jim Ketchum, co-owner of Marker 8.
“Stone crabs are relatively valuable and one reason is that you’re only allowed to take one claw off the crab at a time. Also about half of the crab’s weight is the shell. Of course it’s a renewable resource and so there is no stone crab farming around here.”
Is there a problem with poaching in this area?
“Now and then there is. The commercial fishermen don’t do it, but sometimes people will raid each other’s traps. You can tell if someone has pulled your traps and stolen your crabs if, when you check the lines on the traps, they’re cleaner at one end than at the other. But generally it’s not a big problem here.
“A long time ago there were wars between the shrimpers and the crabbers because the shrimpers used to come in. The crabbers go out to about 90 feet of water or so and the shrimpers are supposed to stay outside of that.
“Every once in a while they’ll drift in and collect some crab traps and drag them up and ruin them.
“Crabbers could go out further than 90 feet but they’d have to have about 120 feet of rope. And that’s a long drive out there. To get to the 90-foot depth it’s about 35 to 40 miles.
“That far out the crabs move around a lot. Sometimes they’ll be north off Sanibel and sometimes down south in the Everglades National park area but you can’t fish for them there. There are not many catches low in the Keys this year either.”
We asked Jim what crabbers use for bait in their traps.
“The bait now is pigs’ feet. It’s tough and will sit for a week or so. Also, grouper heads and mullet are good.
“What’s great is old cat food, yes, cans of expired cat food. You can get a whole semi-load full of it, punch two holes in the can and drop it into the trap. The stuff will weep out a little, all oily and nasty, cheap bait for expensive crabs and they like it.
“Actually crabs will eat almost anything. In fact if you don’t have any bait in there for very long, the crabs will start picking on each other.”
Jim says the six-month-long stone crab season ends on May. 15. We thank Jim for the short course in stone crabology.
For Marker 8 restaurant, 123 Bayshore Way in Goodland, call (239) 393-0888.
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: email@example.com.