Keys fishermen expect bountiful stone crabs

Published October 15, 2006

MARATHON - An uneventful 2006 Atlantic hurricane season has commercial fishermen in the Florida Keys upbeat about the potential for a productive stone crab season when the annual harvest opens Sunday.

"Everybody is optimistic," said Gary Graves, vice president of Keys Fisheries, the largest processor of the tasty claws in the island chain. "No storms, the weather's been good and we've seen crabs in lobster traps."

Hurricane Wilma last year ravaged hundreds of thousands of traps in the Keys and adjacent Collier County. The Keys alone account for 40 percent of the state's annual stone crab claw harvest.

The state harvest fell from about 3-million pounds of claws in the 2004 season to just over 2-million pounds last season, said Bill Sharp, a fisheries management analyst with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"After the storms last year, there was a lot of fishermen that wanted to sell out, because they were devastated," Graves said.

But the fishermen associated with Graves' company "all have rebuilt, have new traps and are ready to go fishing," he said.