Saturday, July 16, 2011
Stone Crabs: Catch Your Own!
I’ve always enjoyed eating Florida stone crabs – well, the claws, at least. If you’ve ever priced stone crab claws, you know they don’t come cheap. The solution? Catch your own stone crabs and harvest your own stone crab claws! When we’re in Florida during stone crab season – October 15 through May 15, we like to set out a trap for stone crabs, and we always catch blue crabs in the trap, too.
Stone crabs, Menippe mercenaria, can be found in the Atlantic from Connecticut southward, including much of the Caribbean. The stone crab is brownish-gray with grey spots, and most specimens have black claw tips. From my experience with crabbing, stone crabs are more prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve caught stone crabs on the Atlantic coasts of Florida and Georgia, but never as many as we’ve caught in the Gulf.
I’ve experimented with several crab baits with which to load my trap, including fresh fish, smelly fish, lean fish, oily fish, cooked chicken, and raw chicken. This could be entirely coincidental, but it seems to me that the stone crabs are pickier about what they eat than the blue crabs are. We’ve caught tons of blue crabs on just about everything imaginable. Believe it or not, we once made a big haul of blue crabs with an empty cigarette pack that was knocked out of the boat by an angry shark.
The last time we went crabbing in Florida, we racked up on blue crabs, using dead pinfish as bait. We didn’t catch a single stone crab, however, until we switched to chicken necks. I thought this was just a coincidence, so I repeated the experiment several times. I always got the same results: the blue crabs would be attracted to any type of flesh we put in the trap, but the stone crabs would enter the trap only for the chicken necks. Maybe we were just in a community of finicky stone crabs! Of course, I gave them what they wanted.
The bodies of stone crabs have little meat on them, but the claws can get big and meaty. Stone crabs grow two claws: a larger one and a smaller one. The large claw is called the “crusher,” while the smaller claw is called the “pincher” or the “pincer.” The legal size is 2 ¾ inches, measured from the tip of the claw half that doesn’t move to the first joint of the claw arm. In Florida, both claws can be harvested as long as they’re of legal size, but I don’t think this is a good practice. When you remove both claws and return the live stone crab to the water, it doesn’t have any way to defend itself. We prefer removing the largest claw and return the crabs to the water. These one-armed crabs will have almost a 75% chance of surviving. If both claws are removed, the stone crab will have about a 50% chance of surviving.
Catching stone crabs isn’t difficult if you use a wire mesh trap loaded with chicken necks. Slow moving water is best. Stone crabs love oysters, so if you can place the trap near oyster beds, you’ll most likely have good luck. Stone crabs also like rocks, manmade structures, and grass beds. Find a likely area and drop the baited trap in the water, letting it sink to the bottom. Tie off the rope, and wait. We usually check our traps ever couple of hours, except when we leave them out overnight. Handle the stone crabs carefully! Their claws are powerful and can inflict some real damage. To see how to properly remove stone crab claws, watch the accompanying video.