Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Octopuses, weather patterns are causing stone crab prices to soar

RECOMMENDED READING


HERNANDO BEACH — With the holidays approaching, demand for Florida stone crabs is on the rise.

Unfortunately, so is the price.

The problem is the supply of the Gulf of Mexico delicacy is down dramatically in some areas because of balmy weather, warm water and the crustacean's fickle life cycle.

Then there's the octopus.

Some crabbers say as many as half of their traps are coming up empty, save for the remnants of dead crabs. That's because the marauding tentacled beasts have moved in to stake their claim.

Kathy Birren, owner of the Hernando Beach Seafood Co. in Hernando County, said that while intrusion by the eight-legged creatures has always been a problem for trappers, she estimated that stone crab harvesting is down about 80 percent from usual this time of year.

"Normally, we get between 400 and 500 pounds a day per boat, but these days we're lucky to get 50 pounds," said Birren, whose company is the largest processer of wholesale seafood in Hernando County. "I've never seen it this bad."

Birren said that stone crab season started fairly strong in October and continued so through Thanksgiving. But three weeks ago, her boat crews began coming up mostly empty-handed.

"It's very disappointing," Birren said. "These guys work hard, and when they come back with little to show for it, they get very depressed."

Pinpointing the exact cause is difficult, said Ryan Gandy, a crustacean research biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Crabbing areas north of Sarasota County where water temperatures haven't cooled much and waters have remained calm seem to have suffered most from the rapid octopus explosion.

While environmental factors could be to blame, normal fluctuations in the numbers of octopuses and stone crabs and what they feed on also play a role, Gandy said.

"Stuff in the gulf likes to move around, and normal cycles can be disrupted," he said. "Predators go where food is easiest to find. Right now, the octopuses are winning. If another predator arrives to feed off them, or a couple of strong cold fronts move in, then things could change quickly."

However, biology doesn't help much for those looking to fill up on what is traditionally one of Florida's most treasured wintertime delicacies.

Tommy Shook, general manager at Frenchy's Seafood Co. in Palm Harbor, which ships crab claws to restaurants in Chicago and New York, said he's scrambling to fill even partial orders in time for the holidays.

"Everyone I know is having a tough time finding stone crab claws right now," Shook said. "I could have sold 2,500 pounds of stone crabs this week if I could get them."

Shook, who also supplies his company's five seafood restaurants in Pinellas County, said customers are beginning to feel the pain of the stone crab claw shortage. Retail prices have risen more than 30 percent over the past three weeks, with medium claws selling at $15 per pound.

However, not every restaurant is feeling the pinch.

Jim Mysliwiec, office manager of Billy's Stone Crab in St. Petersburg, said he buys from a vast network of suppliers throughout the state.

"If we can't get them one place, we go elsewhere," Mysliwiec said. "But that's the nature of the business."

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

Comments
A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

ST. PETERSBURG — Not all sinister toys are as obvious as a Chucky doll. Many present more subtle threats — choking hazards, high lead content, privacy concerns. And as the biggest shopping season of the year kicks off, consumer advocates are urging s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Indian automaker plant is latest sign of Detroit comeback

Indian automaker plant is latest sign of Detroit comeback

It has been years since Detroit, birthplace of the American auto industry, was a steady producer of the manufacturing jobs that defined it as the Motor City. But its comeback is entering a new phase.The latest milestone came this week, with the annou...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking ads begin after decade of delay

Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking ads begin after decade of delay

Associated PressWASHINGTON — Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend — but not by choice. Under court order, the industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ybor ’s first public school, long gone, still has a story to tell about district’s history

Ybor ’s first public school, long gone, still has a story to tell about district’s history

TAMPAIt’s been more than a century since Ybor City’s first public school was demolished on the plot of land now identified as 1311 E Eighth Ave.For the past 22 years, the popular concert venue New World Brewery took up the space and one next door. No...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

ST. PETERSBURG — World and national tragedies are changing the city’s approach to security for special events at North Straub Park.With the approach of the holidays, concrete barricades have been erected at a section of the park’s perimeter, where Fo...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Copa Airlines to fly daily nonstop from Tampa to Panama next summer

Copa Airlines to fly daily nonstop from Tampa to Panama next summer

TAMPA — Panama’s Copa Airlines, which four years ago became the first airline to offer service between Panama and Tampa Bay, said it is increasing its nonstop service between Tampa International Airport and Panama City to daily flights starting in Ju...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Irma did not stop tourists from setting record visits to Florida so far in 2017

Irma did not stop tourists from setting record visits to Florida so far in 2017

Despite Hurricane Irma, Florida hit another record high number in tourists visiting the state in the first nine months of this year, according to figures released this week.Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau, said 88.2 million visitors came to...
Updated: 10 hours ago
FCC chairman unveils proposal to repeal net neutrality

FCC chairman unveils proposal to repeal net neutrality

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday followed through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally, setting up a showdown ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

TAMPA — You can collect $110,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the Seminole Heights killings, but for now you’ll have to make two stops.The David A. Straz Foundation announced Monday it would contribute $10,000 to a reward f...
Published: 11/21/17
Hurricane Irma hurt some Tampa Bay home sales even in October

Hurricane Irma hurt some Tampa Bay home sales even in October

Pinellas County home sales took another hurricane-related hit in October as the rest of the Tampa Bay area bounced back from Hurricane Irma.But while prices in all four counties rose once again, the rate of increase continues to slow. Hillsborough’s...
Updated: 9 hours ago