When Is Stone Crab Season?
Stone Crabs are some of Florida’s most famous delicacies and for good reason. They are flavorful, tender, and offer a succulent, savory dining experience unlike any other. The key to cooking up a delicious stone crab is ensuring they’re fresh, which often means waiting for stone crab season to roll around. Stone crabs can be caught throughout Florida waters from October 15th until May 1st, during which time residents and tourists alike can enjoy the unique and nutritious taste of stone crab claws at local restaurants.
Why Can’t Stone Crabs Be Harvested Year-Round?
The implementation of seasonal regulations for stone crab harvesting works as a measure to maintain the population of the species. If stone crabs were harvested year-round, there is a high chance that the population could quickly decline in the gulf, leading to a shortage and perhaps an eventual complete stop to the availability of stone crab claws throughout the state. By allowing the stone crabs several months of warm weather to regenerate lost claws, mate, and grow, trappers ensure that the stone crabs harvested throughout the rest of the year are adequate in size and readily available for wholesale and restaurants.
Why Is Most Harvesting Done in Florida?
Stone crabs of different varieties can be found all along the Atlantic coast, so why are they almost exclusively harvested in Florida and from the gulf? Simply put, crabs from these areas simply taste better. Unlike their more northern counterparts, stone crabs around Florida benefit from the warm, tropical waters of the area. The environment gives them less stringy meat and a milder, more savory taste overall. Furthermore, stone crabs must be harvested and cooked the same day they’re caught for optimal flavor, so having dedicated seasonal stone crab trappers in Florida is a must for the many seafood restaurants that occupy the state.
How Are Stone Crabs Harvested?
Stone crab traps are used to capture crabs from October 15th to May 1st every year. The traps are baited with food to draw the crabs from their hiding places beneath rocks and shell pieces, and enclose them until the trappers can come back to check and re-bait the traps, usually within 24 to 38 hours after it’s been set. Fresh stone crab claws are harvested, and then the crab itself is returned to the warm ocean waters to re-grow the claws that were removed.
Because the stone crab population is so crucial to Florida cuisine, there are several regulations surrounding the harvesting of these creatures. First and foremost, trappers are not allowed to take the whole crab from the sea, because doing so would be to remove the species from the mating pool altogether, thus threatening the population. Instead, trappers harvest one or both claws and then return the crab to the sea. This helps to prevent overfishing and keeps stone crabs easily available.
Furthermore, female crabs that are oviparous when caught (meaning they’re carrying eggs), may not be harvested. Oviparous females can easily be identified by the presence of an orange or brown sponge-like egg sac carried under them. Each crab is checked for this egg sac and then placed back in the ocean with both claws intact if one is detected.
Finally, the size of the claw is crucial. Since 2020, size regulations regarding the harvesting of claws during Florida stone crab season mandate that only claws measuring over 2 ⅞” (or 73.025 mm) long may be harvested. This measurement accounts for the length from the tip of the immovable finger to the first joint. This helps to ensure that not only are young crabs left to grow in peace but that restaurants and ultimately customers are receiving the best meat and are never left with “floaters”, a common name for undersized claws.
What Does Stone Crab Season Mean for Restaurants?
Throughout the state of Florida, seafood restaurants look forward to stone crab season each and every year. While frozen stone crab may be served year-round, there’s nothing quite like the tender meat of fresh-caught, fresh-cooked crabs, and restaurants take advantage of stone crab season each and every year to create their culinary masterpieces.
Learn More at Billy’s Stone Crab
Whether you’re looking for wholesale stone crab claws to make on your own or you prefer to sit down and enjoy fresh-caught stone crab claws cooked by experienced cooks that know the protein inside and out, we have you covered at Billy’s Stone Crab. Our combination restaurant and market setup allow us to spread our love of stone crab claws throughout the season and ensure everyone gets a taste of the very best the coast has to offer. Contact us today to learn more about stone crabs, harvesting, and preparation or to make reservations at our oceanside restaurant.
Featured Image: Vichie81/Shutterstock