How stone crab season survived a hurricane – Miami Herald
Stone crab commercial anglers were spared the loss of traps suffered by the Florida spiny lobster fishing industry when Hurricane Irma stormed through the Keys Sept. 10, striking about a month into the season.
The lobster season ended for many before it really had much of a chance to begin.
But for those who fish both stone crabs and lobster, high market prices for stone crabs and steady production this season, which ends this week, was what they needed to stay afloat after Irma. The hurricane had displaced or destroyed anywhere from half to a third of the 350,000 lobster traps fished in the Keys during the season that runs from Aug. 6 to March 31.
“It wasn’t a great season, and it wasn’t a terrible season,” George Niles, Lower Keys commercial trap fisherman said about the seven-month stone crab season, which ends Wednesday. “Everybody needed a good price after Hurricane Irma.”
That’s not to say that stone crab fishing wasn’t affected by the Category 4 storm. Powerful waves and winds ripped up the bay bottom, disturbing the habitat for the prized crabs, which are harvested for their claws only. After one claw is taken, fishermen release the crabs, which live to regenerate the removed claw.
“Irma did change the landscape and scarified much of the bay bottom adjacent to the Florida Keys,” said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “Stone crabs are burrowing animals, and the change in their essential fish habitat altered their behavior patterns, lowering production.”
Ryan Gandy, a leading crab biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said there were regional shortages near shore, but fishermen who ventured farther out to sea fared well this season.
“The storm drove crabs far off shore, and those fishing operations that could