SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Wednesday is the last day of stone crab season. While you still might be able to grab a few claws through the weekend, fishermen are required to pull up their traps tonight. Was this season all that it was cracked up to be? The official numbers won’t come back until this summer, but crabbers are telling us it wasn’t just a bad season - it was a really bad season. Just another way last year’s red tide hurt the Suncoast.
Stone crabs have always been a tough catch – better left to the professionals. However this year, it was even more difficult, forcing most of the crabbers to give up and leave their boats docked after the first few weeks of season.
"The problem that happens when it’s this bad is that it’s very expensive to put traps out there. You have the fuel, the crew, the bait is very expensive, so it can cost close to a $1,000 just to untie to go out fishing for that day for that crab, so this year a lot of them had to bring their traps in,” Brett Wallin, a Crabber and the owner of Walt’s Fish Market, explained.
However, the demand remained high, so crabbers and restaurants had to work with the supply they had as Florida is the only place where you can get the popular stone crab delicacy.
"The prices do fluctuate, they have to, in order for the crabbers to survive. But to be honest with you, all of the crabbers that work in our area, either broke even or lost money,” Wallin said.
So why was it so bad? The crabbers blame last year’s red tide outbreak. Last year, Mote Marine Laboratory studied whether stone crabs could tolerate high levels of red tide for a few days.
"Because our recent red tide outbreaks have been more prolonged, we decided to extend it for another week, nine days total, and that’s when we started to see major effects on the animal,” Dr. Phillip Gravinese, explained to us last April.
The tested crabs died or became stressed while in red-tide contaminated waters, and that was only after nine days. The Suncoast saw these conditions for months on end.
"But it’s not just the red tide, it’s everything else that you take away from the crab’s habitat that we have to worry about as far as pollution or over-development or anything like that. It’s not just red tide. Everybody has to put their forth in in protecting the ocean so that the crab and the fish have a safe place to live,” Wallin expressed.
However, crabbers say there still is hope.
"Actually, the last month or so we started doing really well. People are like ‘Ugh that sucks because in the beginning you didn’t do good.’ But no. This means next year it’s going to be really good, so I’m really positive about next year,” said Wallin.
The season will reopen again on October 15th in order to protect the stone crabs during their spawning season.