Florida Stone Crabs
For Orlando’s Best Seafood Restaurant, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, the season for Florida stone crabs is rapidly approaching. The season begins October 15th and runs till May 15th. Last season was less than stellar with prices ranging from 30% to 50% higher than previous years due to the inclement weather as well as the demand. When the waters are rough, the stone crab traps are difficult to bring to the surface thus the fisherman are not able to harvest as much. On the other hand when the seas are rough the stone crabs are easier to catch. The Florida stone crab or Menippe mercenaria can be found in the North Atlantic, from Connecticut to Belize, including Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas. The Stone Crabs are harvested solely for their claws or chelae. The claws are brownish red with grey spots and tan on the underside. The tips of the claw are black.
Florida stone crabs feed on oysters, smaller mollusks, polychaete and other crustaceans. The predator for the stone crabs, other than man, is horse conch, grouper, sea turtles, cobia and octopus. The stone crab reaches its sexual maturity after 2 years and spawns all spring and into summer. Each female can produce up to 1 million eggs. A stone crabs lifespan is roughly 7-8 years. The Stone Crab has the ability to grow its claw back after losing it to either its predators or man. As long as the claw is broken off at the right place there is no harm done to the crab. Harvesting is accomplished by removing one or more claws from the live animal and returning it to the ocean where it can regrow the lost limb(s). To be kept, claws must be 2.75 inches (70 mm) long, measured from the tips of the immovable finger to the first joint. The average catch per season for stone crabs is between 2 to 4 million.
The claws are sold by size, generally in 4 sizes: medium (2-3oz), large (3-5oz), jumbo (5-7oz) , colossal (8oz and 10) and super (11-14oz). It takes between 12 to 24 months for the claw to regenerate to again reach the legal size to be harvested. At Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, we have added another size classification known as Titan (16oz and up). The Monterey Bay Aquarium has given the Florida stone crab fishery its highest rating of “Best Choice” for maintaining high fishing standards and working hard to keep the stone crab a viable fishery.
*Stone crabs are usually “right-handed,” meaning that the larger crusher claw is usually on the right.
*The ability of adult stone crabs to feed upon mollusks can be attributed to the enormous crushing force of their claws – up to 19,000 pounds per square inch. Their pincer claws are used to cut or tear shell and tissue.
*Stone crabs appear to be well suited for their habitat. The dark, un-mottled color pattern of the Gulf stone crab helps it blend in with the mud substrates common to the northern Gulf estuaries, and the lighter, spotted color pattern of the Florida stone crab makes it difficult to see in grassy areas.
*Distinguishing characteristics: Stone crabs have a large crusher claw and a smaller pincer claw with numerous small teeth used for cutting. The Gulf stone crab is maroon brown, as compared to the Florida stone crab which is spotted and banded.
*The main harvest method used in both the commercial and recreational fisheries is a baited trap. Some recreational crab fishers collect crabs by hand (using scuba or snorkel gear). Most fishermen use traps. In the commercial stone crab fishery, traps are put out in long lines of up to 100 traps where each individual trap is buoyed. Recreational crab fishers are limited to five traps per person and a recreational saltwater fishing license is required by the harvester.
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen has become a destination for the best Stone Crabs in Florida. Big Fin brings in hundreds of pounds of fresh stone crabs daily with sizes ranging from large to the enormous 16oz claws known as Titans. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen serves them chilled with a creamy mustard or you can get them hot served with drawn butter.
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen is located on Restaurant Row at the Dellagio Shopping Center in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando. The address is 8046 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando, Florida 32819. Reservations are recommended by calling 407-615-8888.