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FELIX HILARY/ Contributed



BY GABRIEL SANCHEZ AND KRISTEN LIVENGOOD “The fishermen are resilient, Marathon is resilient, and the Keys are resilient,” said Keys Fisheries owner Gary Graves when asked about Hurricane Irma’s affect on the seafood industry. “There’s no doubt we got kicked, but everyone is working together to rebuild our lost gear.” Graves said that based on his 50 years in the industry, he expects next year’s fishery to be “normal.” He said changes to the ocean bottom can affect next year’s outcome, but early indicators are positive. “A few of the guys who had traps out there are reporting that they are seeing some small lobster — that’s a good sign,” he said. “We’re going to be optimistic.” Unfortunately, the numbers for this last lobster season were dismal. The 2017-18 lobster season, which ends March 31, could produce half the expected harvest because of Hurricane Irma, and stone crab numbers are likely to suffer as well. “Harvest levels are returning to normal,” says Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Billy Kelly, but estimates that commercial lobster fisherman lost “six to eight weeks of their best production” to the storm. In total, the 2017-2018 season could yield 2.5 million

34 2018 Marathon Seafood Festival

pounds or less of lobster, an estimate Kelly says is half the expected amount. For stone crab numbers, Kelly said he fears the numbers will be down, too.

150,000 OF 350,000 — lobster traps displaced by Hurricane Irma

The numbers, compiled by Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, reveal the peak months of season — August, September and October — are way off.

5,000 OF 6,700 TRAPS — the amount of equipment lost by one Middle Keys fishing family

The data showed that in August 2017, 816,229 pounds of lobster were harvested. September, the heart of season, saw 421,124 pounds hauled in. October’s landing figures are 391,025. For comparison, the August 2016 total was 1,076,426 pounds, September was 1,233,025 and October, 755,241. Hurricane Irma hurt Keys fishermen in a lot of other ways, too. Some had damage to their boats, or lost them altogether, and between boarding up homes and moving families, some had to leave traps in the water. Despite the disruption, lobster prices haven’t wavered, and that bodes well for next year’s harvest. Lobster prices are dictated by global factors including the abundance and pricing of other species of lobster from countries like Australia, the Bahamas and South Africa. There is some very, very good news though for the guests of the Marathon Seafood Festival. “Don’t worry, we have plenty of seafood set aside,” said Graves.

10-16 MILES — approximate distance of trap movement on the Oceanside after the storm 3-5 MILES — approximate distance of trap movement on the bayside 80% — percentage of commercial fishing equipment loss in the Middle Keys 14 — number of commercial boats severely damaged from the storm in the Florida Keys

Marathon Seafood Festival 18  
Marathon Seafood Festival 18