MIAMI – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reeled in a compromise after dramatic changes it proposed to stone crabbing made the industry snap.
After originally threatening to shorten the stone crab season by five weeks, the commission conceded to complaints in a virtually held meeting on Wednesday and shortened the season by only two weeks, with a new end date of May 1. The new rules go into effect Oct. 1.
The commission finalized its rules after hosting a series of virtual workshops since June with industry stakeholders, who widely criticized the agency’s original proposals.
On Wednesday, commissioners acknowledged that the new rules – even with a May 1 end of season – would succeed in keeping more than 300,000 pounds of stone crabs from being harvested, which should surpass the agency’s goal of saving 1 million pounds of stone crabs from harvest over a five-year period.
The compromise will allow stone crabbers to enjoy the economic benefit of Easter and Mother’s Day sales, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association.
Stone crabs are unique among marine fisheries in that only claws of legal size are harvested, returning the live crab back into the ocean. Stone crabs regenerate removed claws.
“We’re not yet in a crisis mode with this fishery, but we’re seeing signs that trouble may be on the horizon,” said Gil McRae, director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
Commissioners and staff cited an overall decrease in caught stone crabs over the past few years based on their data as a reason for making changes now, even during a global pandemic.
Ending the season early is intended to reduce contact with egg-bearing females, said Krista Shipley, a Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff member in the marine fisheries management division. Warm water temperatures act as a cue for female stone crabs to spawn, and coastal waters are warming earlier in the year due to climate change.
Some industry members expressed continued concern over any new regulations amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged Florida especially in recent weeks and caused some stone crabbers to retrieve their traps two months earlier than usual for the past season.
Carrie Doxsee, who runs Doxsee Seafood Inc. with her husband in Marco Island, in southwest Florida, said she expects stone crab businesses to collapse.
“We have no idea what the 2020-2021 crab season has in store for us,” she said during the meeting. “Will restaurants be open? Will crabs be bought? The season was already shortened due to COVID-19.”
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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Chery reported from Ocoee, Florida. The reporters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.