Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hang In There, Only 60 Days ‘til Stone Crabs are Back

Rumination from the Rock and BeyondRumination from the Rock and Beyond

Jeremy Howell grinds off the barnacles and other debris from the stone crab trap.

Last season was a bonanza of stone crab claws, if you chose to partake, and the 2018 season is gearing up to be another prolific harvest.

Do you ever wonder what the captains and crew do to gear up for the “season?” Well, it only lasts from October 15 to May 15, so you have to enjoy this delicacy while you can. But, I digress. Between now and October 5th, what is the process they follow to get ready for the next season of succulent crab claws?

Two different crews have been toiling in the hot weather for days outside the Kirk Fish Company in Goodland and my curiosity urged me to find out what they’re doing. Temperatures in the 90s, humidity in the hundreds, it seemed, no air conditioning and thousands of crab traps surrounding them under make-shift tarps with a box fan nearby. They both had lines set up and certain tasks for each as they processed their traps from last year and probably years past to get ready for the 2018-19 season.

What does this entail? Holy Crab Claws! Put yourself in this assembly line and tell me, honestly, if you could do it.

First, all the traps are hauled back to the dock/storage area. They sit in the sun outdoors for a considerable time while the barnacles and other attached sea life die. Then there’s the stench from all the little critters, and depending on the way the wind blows, it can stink you out of house and home and encourage a trip to Stan’s, The Little Bar or the Crabby Lady for a cold one to ward off the aromas. Now that the traps are dried out and the smell has reached a tolerable level, each trap is moved to the assembly line for the following modifications.

  • Scrape, chisel and pound off the old critter shells, seaweed and dried mud, especially from the top of the trap.
  • Check the buoy and rope to be sure it’s functional, replace if necessary and coil up
  • Removed the worn degradable panel and screw in a brand new slat made of untreated pine or cypress (5½ inches by 3½ by ¾ inch. (Why, you might ask? If the trap becomes untethered and/or lost, the degradable panel allows the captured crabs or fish to escape.)
  • Examine the “throat” (aka entrance) to be sure it is free of blockage and grind off any adhering shells.
  • Paint the “throat” with black anti-fouling paint to discourage shell life from blocking the door inside and outside.
  • Repaint the buoy if it has wear and tear so it identifies the owner of the trap.
  • Screw the state ID tag to the top of the trap and haul them back to the stack. (By the way, each tag costs $0.50, so do the math.)
  • Repeat (depending on your number of traps) until they’ve all been rehabbed and ready for the stone crab season to begin.

Douglas Doxsee’s been a crabber for 35 years and Captain Bill Pilger has been running the boat and traps for 51 years. They’ve hired Jeremy Howell to help them for the last month to process their 4,000 traps. Doxsee stated that just to get ready for the crabbing season, there’s about $25,000 in expenses before they ever harvest a single crab.

Billy Weeks captains his boat, Miss Jill, and has been crabbing for 41 years. He said he did some cement work for three years, but didn’t like it and has been a crabber ever since. A while back, he had a stroke and they told him he’d never walk or do anything. Well, he proved them wrong and hasn’t regretted his life for a minute because he’s still going strong. Jason Macias is the other half of Weeks’ trap-rehab team.

Photos by Jory Westberry
Acres of crab traps wait their turn for rehab.

Getting back to the arrival date of the first stone crabs – the traps can be set on October 5th, but can’t be touched until first harvest on October 15th. They use pigs’ feet and mullet as bait and rebait their traps every ten days. They are mindful of the predators including octopus and loggerhead turtles. Doxsee said that the jaws of a loggerhead can break the top off a trap, it’s so strong.

Crabbers have to be careful when taking the claw from a stone crab or it could be injured and unable to grow a new claw. By taking only one claw, the crab has a better chance of finding food and growing a claw back faster. The crabs increase the size of their new claw every time they molt or shed their shell once a year. Other than their succulent flavor, especially with Kirk’s amazing mustard sauce, that’s probably the best part about harvesting stone crab claws, they are a renewable resource. See you at Kirk’s!

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!


One response to “Hang In There, Only 60 Days ‘til Stone Crabs are Back”

  1. Kelly says:

    Thanks for a nice and educational article! Accuracy is greatly appreciated 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *