Stone crab fishery well managed

Stone crabs (Menippe mercenaria and M. adina) are found from North Carolina south around peninsular Florida to the Yucatan and Belize and throughout the Bahamas and Great Antilles.

Approximately 98 per cent of the catch is landed in Florida. Adults are benthic and live in burrows that can be found from the shoreline out to depths of 200 feet. This crab lives around rocky areas or oyster reefs and burrows into the sand.

Stone crabs are fished near jetties, oyster reefs or other rocky areas just as for blue crabs. In the northern and western Gulf of Mexico, gulf stone crabs replace Florida stone crabs.

Stone crabs are brownish red with gray spots and tan underneath, and have large and unequally-sized pincers with black tips. Females have a larger top outer shell, but males usually have larger claws than females.

Stone crabs feed on oysters and other small mollusks, polychaete worms, and other crustaceans. They will also occasionally eat seagrass and carrion (remains of dead animals). Predators that feed on stone crabs include grouper, sea turtles, cobia, octopi and humans.

The stone crab fishery is unusual in that only the claws are harvested; the crab is returned to the water alive to generate new claws. The stone crab loses its limbs easily to escape from predators or tight spaces, but their limbs will grow back.

It only takes about one year for the claw to grow back to its normal size. Each time the crab molts its exoskeleton, the new claw grows larger.

During the life of the crab, the same appendage may be generated three or four times. Claw regeneration to harvestable size is often within 12 months.

Stone crabs spawn up to 13 times per year and current management regulations (minimum claw size) allow each female one or two breeding seasons before entering the fishery.

Management has proven effective and progressive in maintaining stock abundance, and is now dealing with the issue of overcapitalization. Managers and fishers have collaborated to create new licensing and trap limits that will gradually decrease fishing effort over the next 30 years.

At one time this crab was marketed only to local consumers in the immediate fishing area, but the stone crab market expanded in the 1980s and today the market has broadened to include seafood restaurants, hotels, coastal supermarkets and specialty food stores.

The Florida stone crab fishery is well managed and there is also no bycatch and little habitat damage associated with this fishery, putting stone crab on our ‘Best Choices’ list.

Cayman Sea Sense is dedicated to helping consumers make informed and environmentally positive seafood choices. For more information on this and other seafood options please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky/seasense.html or contact [email protected].