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dIY: Stone Crabs Residents can have up to five traps each

By Kristen Livengood There is more than one way to get stone crabs in the Keys, but a favorite among locals is doing it themselves. Below are some legal rules and helpful tips: The minimum size of a claw is 2 ¾ inches, measured from the inside of the knuckle joint to the lower tip of the immovable claw. Claws can be collected via five recreational traps per person, or by a dip net. In no way, shape, or form can a stone crabber puncture, hurt, hook, or injure the crab’s body – stone crab might be the Florida Keys’ most important renewable resource since they grow back the claws. Bag limit is one gallon of claws per person, or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less. Egg-bearing crabs have orange egg sacks affixed underneath their bodies: do not a claw off any egg bearing stone crab; it’s illegal.

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The easiest way to fish for stone crabs is to buy a trap kit from a local store like Cudjoe Sales or The Home Depot. Kits run about $20 per trap, and will come with everything to get wet except the concrete, and are available in a variety of materials. “I have found that plastic works best for durability reasons,” said local John Kotch, who keeps his traps in grassy areas adjacent to sandy spots and uses a pig foot as bait. He sets his traps about a half-mile out bayside and checks them every 10-14 days. An important trap element is the biodegradable cypress or pine slat. If a trap goes missing — either a buoy dragged away by a propeller or a whole trap washed away in a storm — the crabs will eventually escape. The “R” must be visible on all recreational buoys and the trap’s owner information (name and address) affixed or etched into the trap. Legally both claws, if of size, can be removed, but some leave the smaller one to help the crab defend itself. The renewable delicacy don’t need its claws to eat, but can eat more and regenerate the other claw faster with one. Sound like a lot of work? That’s okay, all the fish markets and restaurants also have stone crab on the menu. Season is open through May 15.

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