Stone Crabs Season Started With New Laws In Place In Florida

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has made legal changes to this upcoming Stone Crab season, which began this October 15th.

Stone CrabsPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

The commission conceded to complaints, and shortened the season by only two weeks, with a new ending date of May 1. The new regulations went into effect on Oct. 1st. Commissioners acknowledge that the new rules will allow fisheries to reduce 300,000 pounds of stone crabs from being harvested, which will help surpass the agency’s goal of saving 1 million pounds of stone crabs from harvest over the next five years.

Commissioners have cited a major decrease in stone crabs hauls over the past few years. Recent scientific studies have been the base reason for making changes now, to help kickstart and preserve healthier stocks in the future. “The change will allow stone crab fishermen to enjoy the economic benefits”, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

Stone crabs are a unique species among marine fisheries, as only the claws of legal-sized animals are harvested, while the live crab is returned to the ocean. Stone crabs can regenerate severed claws in a few months’ time. “We’re not yet in a crisis mode with this fishery, but we’re seeing signs that trouble may be on the horizon,” said Gil McRae, director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. With populations already low, illegal fishing and size catches are an annual risk on the open ocean. 

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff report ending the season two weeks early is intended to reduce contact with egg-bearing females. Some in the community and industry have concerns amid the new regulations and the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused declines in all businesses in Florida. Effective the beginning of the season, claw sizes must legally be 2 3/4 inches. People may have up to five days after the season to retrieve their traps. Escape rings must be 2 3/16th inches in plastic or wood traps by the beginning of the 2023-2024 season, which allows crabs to claw their way free.

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