MARATHON (CBSMiami/Florida Keys News Bureau) — Stone crab season is officially underway but for Florida Keys commercial fishermen, the start of the stone crab claw harvest season means new regulations to protect future crab stocks and uncertainties about the market for claws because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission‘s new protections include increasing the minimum size of a harvested claw from 2 3/4 inches to 2 7/8 inches; reducing the harvest season by two weeks and modifying traps to have a 2 3/16-inch escape ring.
Gary Graves, vice president of Keys Fisheries, one of the state’s largest processors of the tasty claws, said many commercial fishermen’s traps in the Florida Keys are already compliant, even though those modifications aren’t required to be completed until the start of the 2023-2024 season.
He said commercial fishermen around the state worked with FWC officials to institute the new practices to ensure future harvests.
“We’re in favor of this (new regulations) to rebuild the fishery,” Graves said, adding that about 2.1 million pounds of claws were harvested last year around Florida. “Probably in four or five years, we’ll be able to start catching three or three-and-a-half million pounds (annually) like we used to.”
More from CBSMiami.com
Stimulus Package Update: What Happens To The Economy Without A Second Stimulus?
Sheriff Gregory Tony Fires 2 Top Jail Administrators For Incident Involving Inmate Who Gave Birth
Attorneys For 73-Year-Old Man Beaten On Metromover Announce Lawsuit Against Security Company
Graves said the COVID-19 pandemic has fishermen on edge because most commercially harvested claws are sold to restaurants across Florida.
“Retail, I think, is strong,” Graves said. “We see a lot of people ordering (seafood) online or going to the grocery store and buying and eating at home.
“But we just don’t know what restaurants are going to do this year in Florida, which are the largest consumers of the crab,” he said.
Stone crab season ends May 1.
Stone crabs are one of the world’s few renewable seafood resources, Graves said. The crab has the capability of regrowing claws to replace those that are harvested.
(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.)