In this 2015 video, Damas Kirk has been a stone crabber since he was a kid. Kirk and his family eventually took over the family business, Kirk Fish Company, a fishery and retail market in Goodland.
Boats slipped out of Goodland before sunrise Friday, carrying with them stacks of stone crab traps that rolled with the boats in the early morning chop. The traps will rest on the dark bottom of the Gulf until opening day, Sunday, Oct. 15, when they’ll be reeled in to reveal what this year’s stone crab season will bring.
For the Kirk Fish Co. and its fishermen on Goodland, the season is already off to a good start. They won’t miss opening day. Hurricane Irma and its storm surge caked much of Goodland in a few inches of mud. Businesses and restaurants that anchor the small peninsula just south of Marco Island have been working every day over the last month ripping out floors, replacing patios and repairing equipment to get ready for the season.
Now those business owners want customers to know they’ll be ready.
“Everyone thinks Goodland is decimated,” said Kelly Kirk, co-owner of the fish company. “But Stan’s has a new stage, The Little Bar has a new patio, we have a new coat of paint. We bounce back pretty good.”
A few doors down from the fish house, fresh concrete has been poured to replace the outdoor stage at Stan’s Idle Hour. Picnic tables that were blown one or two properties away have all been found and returned.
Floodwaters reached about thigh-high inside the bar, kitchen and restaurant, owner Steve Gober said.
The floors have been gutted. All the kitchen equipment has been replaced.
“Overall, this was the worst hurricane since Donna in 1960,” Gober said.
While the original stage was destroyed, the decades-old outdoor bar at Stan’s survived with almost no damage. License plates that decorate the roof of the bar are all still hanging.
Stan’s, which closes during the summer and typically opens in early October, was delayed about a month by the storm. The target opening date is now Oct. 27.
Next door, The Little Bar, home of the Spammy Jammy fest, which may be the only simultaneous celebration of pajamas and Spam in the known world, is on track to open by Oct. 18.
The Little Bar had no water or flooding damage, but the wind took its toll on fences, roofs, screens, docks and trees.
“We’ll be a couple weeks later than normal,” owner Ray Bozicnik said. “We’re all working hard, but we need to make sure all our workers’ houses are being taken care of. You can’t be in two places at once.”
Trees and broken docks are being pulled out of the water to make sure it’s safe for boaters to pull up to the waterfront bar and restaurant. Tables and chairs were being wiped down and cleaned. While it may have been the worst hurricane to hit Goodland in decades, the area has survived storms before, Bozicnik said.
“Just keep a roof over your head and stay away from wires,” he said.
It is anyone’s guess how the hurricane might affect the stone crab fishing. The storm may actually help the crab populations by kicking up enough muck and murky waters to cover the crabs from the grouper and octopus that hunt them, while also shuffling up the buried conchs, clams and oysters that crabs feed on.
“Mother Nature works through it,” Kirk said. “Hurricanes are a natural thing, and sometimes I think they’re needed to flush everything out and give it a reset. Just look at all the shorebirds right now feeding on the sandbars. The fishing might be killer.”