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Stone crabs lurk below bay area bridges

Stone crab season opened Oct. 15, and the pickings should be good until it closes again May 15. The most popular method for collecting these tasty critters is scuba diving around local bridges.

Quick release

To remove the claw without killing the crab, grasp a claw with the fingers of each hand, holding the body firmly between the hands. Twist the claw down and away from the body. With steady pressure, the crab should "drop" the claw. You'll know you have done it right if the break is clean. If meat is hanging out, the crab will die.

But be careful. If a crab nips you, it can easily turn a fingernail black overnight. The large crushing claw, the one most prized for the dinner table, is the stone crab's principal weapon. A fully developed crab is strong enough to crush clams and oysters, so imagine what it can do to an index finger.

A sustainable fishery

While stone crabs can be found from North Carolina to Mexico, Florida has long been considered the commercial capital for these shellfish.

The stone crab has the honor of being the only sustainable marine resource in the United States. While the crab has two meat-filled claws, when threatened (such as a diver or wader applying a little pressure) the crab simply releases the appendage. The crab can then be returned to the water alive.

Research shows that about 20 percent of the claws measured in fish houses have been regenerated, which demonstrates that a crab can survive after being declawed.

Mature crabs may lay several hundred thousand eggs three or four times a year, but fewer than a dozen of the offspring will become reproducing adults. Their principal enemy, besides man, is the octopus. During years when octopus are plentiful, divers have a hard time finding stone crabs.

If you go

Females with eggs are protected. The claw must measure 23/4 inches. (For more details on the regulations and measuring a claw go to myfwc.com.) The season runs Oct. 15 to May 15. The bag limit is 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per vessel.

Harvesting gear

It is unlawful to use any device in the taking of stone crabs that can puncture, crush or injure the crab body, such as spears, grabs, hooks or similar devices.

A word about claws

State officials are often asked if both claws can be harvested. The answer, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

"Although it is currently lawful to harvest both of a stone crab's claws, this practice leaves the stone crab with few alternatives to defend itself from predators. Although the crab can still obtain minimal amounts of food with no claws, having one claw (if the other one is harvested) will enable the crab to obtain greater amounts of food in a shorter amount of time. Stone crabs have the ability to grow back their claws, but this process requires a large amount of energy in the form of food. The quicker the crab can obtain the energy required to molt and grow its lost claw, the sooner this renewable delicacy will have another claw to replace the missing claw."

Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors Editor

Stone crabs lurk below bay area bridges 11/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 6, 2008 12:24pm]
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