Talk about a renewable resource. In the stone crab fishery, fishermen haul up their pots, pluck a stone crab out, tear off its claw, and toss it back to grow another claw. If the claw has a length of at least two inches, one or both may be removed from a male or non-egg-bearing female.
Several species of stone crab are found from North Carolina to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but more than 90 percent of the catch is the common stone crab, which is fished in Florida waters from October to May. Although stone crab is fished along much of Florida’s coast, most landings occur off the southern half of Florida’s west coast.
In about one year, a larger stone crab can regenerate a claw that’s about two-thirds its original size. A smaller crab can take three years to grow a claw that just meets the legal market size. Surveys of crab buyers indicate that about 20 percent of the claws purchased from fishermen are from crabs that had already been declawed once.
Stone crabs have quite astonishing reproductive rates, spawning up to 13 times a year. Minimum claw size regulations make it possible for female stone crabs to go through one or two breeding seasons before they are caught.
While the stone crab population is generally believed to be in good condition, recent landings of Florida stone crab have been below historical levels, about 2,700 MT (six million pounds). Due to insufficient data, biologists are uncertain why landing numbers are down, although the decrease is believed to be caused by more fishing by both recreational and commercial fishermen. To combat the problem, Florida fishery managers are adopting measures to reduce fishing effort by decreasing the number of pots currently being used.
In the U.S. fishery, only one claw at a time may be removed from the crab – a system unique to the stone crab fishery and created by the fishermen to keep the population sustainable. Some scientists expressed concern over the high mortality of stone crabs following declawing, but regulations were changed to increase survival rate.
© 2006 Seafood Choices Alliance