The next time you order stone crabs, make sure you pause and take the time to really enjoy the sweet fleshy meat of those delicious claws because each year they are becoming slightly more elusive. Over the last few years the common octopus has been seeking out crab traps and devouring the catch before fishermen get the chance to harvest them. As a species the octopus is relatively intelligent. After all, scientific researchers found that when given the option to fight with a mussel to open its shell or eat clams that were already shelled, the octopus chose the clams. They are adept at learning and applying what they’ve learned to different situations and they are even capable of expressing limited emotional response by changing color. Unfortunately they’ve figured out a way to get into the traps and with this new understanding they are wreaking havoc for the commercial crabbing industry.
We know what you’re thinking. The sea is vast and abundant, and the fishing industry has been very successful in maintaining a healthy crab population by taking only the claws, allowing the clever crustacean to grow another one in its place, but nobody was expecting a hostile takeover by mischievous mollusks. It takes about three years or a few molting seasons for the animal to replace its limb. The claws must also be the right size, at least 2 ¾ inches long to be considered harvestable. In most cases, fishermen take the largest claw from each animal and leave the other one behind so it can defend itself. This has proved to be a rather harmonious existence between humans and crabs, but since the octopus invasion of 2012, the population has begun to decline. Octopuses aren’t as selective or prudent as commercial fishermen. They greedily dine on the whole animal leaving the empty shell as evidence. They aren’t just eating your dinner either. In addition to consuming the contents of the traps, they are taking up residence inside! Octopuses look for shelter from larger predators and are able to drill through hard surfaces which make it easy for them to access the traps.
As of this year, the lower half of the Florida Gulf has been hit the hardest. Other areas like the Florida Keys and lower Atlantic coast haven’t been affected as badly. Fish and wildlife experts haven’t determined if the octopus population is experiencing a dramatic increase or if weather and climate changes are responsible for their abundant appearance in these regions, but what is clear is that this delicious delicacy isn’t as plentiful as it has been in the past. On the bright side, with only two weeks remaining in the commercial season and fishermen hoisting their traps from the water, the population has the opportunity to bounce back in time for next year. In the mean time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be looking for new ways to monitor changes in the octopus population that could lead to innovative solutions for the future.
As a promise to our customers, we take great strides to work with commercial fishermen that will ensure we always have the best seafood available throughout the season. So come out to see us before May 15th and get your mouth-watering crab claws!