Spiny lobsters and scallops seem to get all the attention when it comes to collecting critters for dinner. But Florida waters offer another crustacean that’s every bit as delicious as lobster. Stone crab claws are a delicacy well worth the effort, and whether you’re diving for them or pulling them up in a trap, recreational harvest of stone crab claws opens this month.
Stone crab season opens Oct. 15 and runs through May 1 this year. Previously the season had run through May 15, but FWC has implemented several changes to bolster populations this season. Along with changes to trap requirements, the minimum length for legally harvestable claws has been increased from 2 ¾ inches to 2 7/8 inches. That means you’ll have to get a new measuring device to make sure your dinner is legal.
Trapping is the most efficient method of collecting the legal limit of 1-gallon of stone crab claws per-person, per-day. There is a 2-gallon possession limit per vessel, regardless of how many harvesters are on the boat. Requirements for stone crab traps are also very specific, so be sure to check the current regulations at myfwc.com before dropping them. Legal traps can be purchased at most bait and tackle stores. Recreational harvesters are allowed up to five traps. Drop them, baited with fish heads, near sandy or rocky structure.
Although it’s not nearly as easy as pulling traps, diving and snorkeling for stone crabs is more adventurous and a lot of fun. In many areas, you can find spiny lobsters and stone crabs on the same reefs or rock piles. For stone crabs, look for the tell-tale crushed shells in front of holes in the rocks or reef. Use a tickle stick to pull them out of the hole. A wire coat hanger will do, but the angle at the end must be less than 90 degrees to be legal.
Once you’ve got a stone crab out of its hole, it will usually hunker into a defensive posture and threaten you with its claws. They don’t move very quickly, so they are pretty easy to capture at this point. Using gloved hands, either grab the crab quickly by both claws at the same time, or get a hold of its body safely behind the claws. Be careful of those claws though, a stone crab is capable of breaking your finger if it gets a hold of it.
Whether diving or trapping, it is illegal to harvest claws from egg-bearing females. Males typically have larger claws, anyway, and although it is permitted to take both claws if they are of legal length, most people choose to take just one. This leaves the crab with something to feed and defend itself with, which also allows it to re-grow its missing claw more quickly. It takes about a year for a claw to regenerate.
For more information, go to myfwc.com.