Saturday, January 29, 2022

Behind the Scenes in the Stone Crab Capital

Growing Up in Everglades City

If you ever come to Everglades City, make sure to check out the view of the stone crab boats along the Barron River and head to a local restaurant to try some fresh stone crab!

Even though it isn’t season, I can still remember hearing the vibration sounds of stone crab boats heading down the river at 2 AM.

If you didn’t already know, Everglades City is known as the Stone Crab Capital of the world. When you first cross the bridge going into the city, to the right you can see in the distance crab boats lined in the water against the docks on DuPont (a small port where a lot of stone crabbers dock their boats and traps). The rest you can find up and down the Barron River on the back side of Everglades City School. There you will find hundreds upon hundreds of stone crab traps stacked on top of each other. Stone crabbers are very important to Everglades City as a whole; you can basically say they’re the life of the town. Even though Everglades City is a tourist town, many people mainly come here to try and eat stone crab claws located at our local restaurants.

Stone crabbing has been around in Everglades since the ‘60s, some of the original stone crabbers being people such as the Everglades legend, Totch Brown. Midnight on October 5th, stone crabbers travel out into the Gulf of Mexico hauling around 1,000 to 5,000 traps to put out into the water. Sometimes they have to take three or more trips to take the traps out and get them ready. This gives enough time for some of the traps to accumulate stone crabs when season officially opens up on October 15th. When season opens up and they begin to set out to pull in traps, the traps aren’t just a few miles outside of Everglades City. Many crabbers have to travel three hours from the dock to their first crab line in the Gulf; and the traps usually sit in 20 feet to 150 feet of water.

Being a crabber is not an easy job as it would seem; their work days are very long. They wake up every day around 2 or 3 AM, head to the boats and set out to bring in the traps. When they find a trap, they pull it into the boat and begin unloading the crabs from it. They separate the crabs, break off their claw (Stone Crabs regenerate claws) and then throw it overboard back into the ocean. Sometimes the crabs they get at the beginning of season regenerate their claw so quickly that by the end of season it has already grown back. In which, they can break off the claw again. When they bring the traps in they have to clean them all, repair them if they have any problems and then scrap the barnacles off each and every one. Also, when they unload the crab claws from the boat you can’t eat them raw. Inside the claw is a jelly-like liquid that when you boil the claw it turns to meat that you can then eat. Crabbers immediately have them boiled in large pots at certain crab houses in Everglades City. Some though boil them themselves where they dock their boats. Don’t let waking up that early to get the traps fool you into thinking they will be home or off work by 5 like other jobs. There are so many things they have to do even after and before they get the traps that usually stone crabbers don’t make it home until 8 PM, just to wake back up at 2 and do it all over again the next day.

If you are originally from Everglades City, you are related to at least one person who is a stone crabber. I have cousins that do it for a living, and even my own dad was a stone crabber with his own boat when he was younger. If you’ve never tried stone crab I highly suggest you do. You can eat them boiled, steamed, fried, in a salad and many other interesting and unique ways. My cousins Duane and Robin Levingston make the best stone crab salad you could ever eat! I remember eating it all the time at their house back when I was younger.

If you ever come to Everglades City, make sure to check out the view of the stone crab boats along the Barron River and head to a local restaurant to try some fresh stone crab!

University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.

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