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STONE CRABS: GET CRACKIN'

Since stone crab season opened last week, local fishing boats have found more treats and tricks in their traps; the first haul of stone crab claws was encouraging. According to fish houses and restaurants around the bay the eating was good and plenty in the first week (Stone fans at the Red Roe Inn ate 400 pounds in Ozona last week).

Florida's most exquisite seafood is not cheap. In many stores, medium-sized claws sell for $8.50 to $10 per pound _ and more in restaurants. Best prices are found in fish markets, particularly those on the coast or farther north near Homossassa and Crystal River where much of the fleet is based. Buying close to the source can knock several dollars of the price.

Continued supply, however, depends on the right weather and crabbers' luck _ and of course that the octopus don't eat them all before we do. Look for specials at seafood restaurants and groceries and buy 'em when you see 'em.

Seafood aplenty this weekend: Stone Crab Festival in Longboat Key, Seafood Festival at John's Pass; details in Food File, 4D.

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