Anna Maria Island – The 2015/2016 recreational and commercial Stone Crab claw harvesting season opens October 15th with great anticipation on Anna Maria Island. A local favorite, Stone crab season is a time when islanders celebrate a delicious Florida natural resource with festivals, crab traps and lots of butter! Here’s everything you need to know about Stone Crab season on Anna Maria Island from how to properly catch Stone crabs, where to purchase them and how to cook em’ up.
Catching Stone Crabs
The Florida Stone Crab Season runs from October 15 – May 15 as cooler weather starts to make its way to Florida waters. Typically Stone Crabs are caught by baited crab trap; however, occasionally individuals will use scuba or snorkeling gear and catch Stone Crabs by hand with a dip or landing net. It is illegal to use harvesting methods that damage, crack, crush or injure the crab body such as spears or hooks. Harvesters may collect a gallon of claws per a person, or two gallons of claws per a vessel; which ever is less.
First, a Florida recreational saltwater fishing license is required by the person harvesting Stone Crabs. Harvesters may have no more than five baited traps per person. Traps must be pulled in manually. Anyone using a vessel rigged with a trap puller will be considered commercial, and must have the appropriate license. Traps may only be pulled during day light hours, and can be set out 10 days prior to the start of season. Traps put out before season may not be harvested until the October 15th season open. Traps must be set in navigational channels only.
Traps must be no larger than 8 cubic feet with a throat entrance of 5 1/2″ by 3 1/2″. For Miami-Dade, Collier and Monroe counties round trap throats are prohibited, and must be 5 1/2″ by 3 1/8″. Traps can be made of wood, wire or plastic, and must have a 5 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ degradable panel of cypress or untreated pine salt. The address and name of the harvester must be clearly labeled on the trap. A buoy no larger than six inches labeled with 2″ R is required for traps not fished from a dock.
Stone Crabs Eligible for Harvest
Not all Stone Crabs caught are eligible for harvest, and it’s extremely important precautions are taken in properly removing claws to ensure claws can be regrown and the removal leaves the crab unharmed.
Claws may only be harvested when the propodus, or the large immovable part of the claw, is greater than or equal to 2 3/4″. It is currently legal to harvest both claws from a Stone Crab if they are large enough, but is a frowned upon practice as it leaves the crab defenseless decreasing its chance to survive for another years harvest. It’s important that the claw is broken off properly with the diaphragm, or joint area, is intact to enable the wound to stop bleeding and regrow.
Females caring eggs are called ovigerous, and their egg sacs are called sponges. It is forbidden to harvest claws from ovigerous crabs. The Sponge can be found on the on the belly of the crab and are an orange or brown color. Ovigerous crabs must be thrown back immediately to avoid damaging the sponge. Females can only mate after a molt, or when they shed there exoskeleton, and do so in the fall. Often females will mate in the fall and hold sperm in sacs for up to a year waiting for spawning season in the spring or summer. It is easy to identify the difference between and male and female stone crab as the females have a short round abdomen and the males have a thinner long abdomen.
Where Stone Crabs are served on Anna Maria Island
Stone Crab season is a delicious time of year on the island with many opportunities to purchase them fresh or prepared. The Annual Stone Crab festival, located in the old fishing village of Cortez 4628 119th Street West, is a great place to enjoy the tasty crustacean. The forth annual Stone Crab festival will be held November 7th and 8th from 10am to 6pm with arts crafts and live entertainment. The city of Cortez is just a short drive over the bridge to the mainland, and is one of the countries oldest fishing villages. With a rich history of fishing culture Cortez is the freshest place to find local Stone Crabs. Swordfish Grill and Star Fish Market are two great places to find Stone Crab in Cortez. Back on Island there are several places to find Stone Crab including the Island Fresh Market, The Sandbar, Blue Marlin, The Waterfront, Rod & Reel Pier and many others.
Preparing Stone Crab at Home – Keep it Simple
Once you get your stone crab claws home, if they haven’t already been steamed, give them a good rinse then place them over high heat in a steamer basket for about five minutes. While claws are steaming melt butter. Either chill claws or get to cracking and eating. About three claws per a person is a good standard. Mustard sauce is also a popular Stone Crab accompaniment with many recipes available online with a range of different ingredient options.
If you visit Anna Maria Island between October 15th and May 15th be sure to get your paws on Anna Maria Island’s tastiest claws!
Pictures and video credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife