October 15th begins one of the most anticipated seasons in the Florida Keys: Stone Crab Season! The seven month season that lasts until mid-May allows the widespread harvest of one of the most succulent delicacies in all of Florida.
Stone Crab Claws are filled with sweet, buttery meat. We break down the whole process of enjoying stone crab season, from the sea to your dinner table.
Harvesting: The main harvest method for catching stone crabs is baited traps. Commercial fisherman string hundreds of traps together and are brightly mark them with colorful painted buoys. Each business has their own specific colored marking to identify their traps. Recreational fishermen are only allowed up to 5 traps per person and must have a license to harvest.
Only the claws are taken from the crab at sea. The claw must be at least 2 ¾ inches long with the measurement taken from the joint of the elbow. The larger claws can get as long as 6 inches – these are called colossal. While both claws are allowed to be harvested if they meet the size restriction, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee recommends only one claw be harvested to allow the crab to hunt and protect itself. The crab’s survival rate increases significantly if only one claw is taken. Claws are illegal for harvest on female crabs carrying eggs. Also known as sponges, pregnant female crabs can be identified by an orange sponge on the underside of the crab. Crab claws are a renewable resource which means that the stone crab can regrow its lost appendage or claw.
Female bearing eggs
Cooking: Cooking methods include boiling or steaming the claws as soon as possible after harvest; they can then be served hot or cold.
Serving and Eating: Time to get crackin’! The claws are usually cracked open either using a wood mallet, a special device for cracking the claws, or as locals prefer, the back of a large metal spoon. Accompany the claws with drawn butter or a special mustard dipping sauce. Not much is needed to compliment the already fresh and delicious flavor of the crab meat.
Remember to fish responsibly and enjoy one of the best tasting crustaceans in the world!
Images and information provide by the Keys Fisheries, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee , and Instagram @phild_hughes.