Why Stone Crabbers Are Praying For A Better Season

Oct 14, 2013

Stone Crabbers line up on the Barron River behind the Everglades City Rod and Gun Club to receive a blessing before the start of stone crab season.
Credit Marya Repko

All summer, stone crab crews have been mending their traps and preparing their boats -- waiting for the start of the stone crab season.

With the opening of the season starting Oct. 15, the economic future of the industry will hinge on how bountiful the catch is for Monroe, Lee and Collier counties.

It’s these three areas that provide the bulk of the two to three million pounds of stone crab landings in Florida each year.

But last year, the going was rough for a lot of the crabbers.

The tiny town of Everglades city encompasses less than two square miles - but the economic engine of the town depends on what happens about 50 miles out in the ocean.

So when the local stone crab crew dock their boats for the community-wide "Blessing of the Fleet"- everybody shows up for the party.

Pastor Bob Wallace says without the crabbers the community would be in trouble.

“A lot of these crabbers have been unemployed now for several months,” said Wallace. “It’s kind of a hand-to-mouth existence out of season but if we have a good crabbing season, everybody prospers from it.”

The past two years have been bad. Everyone agrees it's part of mother nature’s cycle. Kit Johnson can’t believe he’s been crabbing for 40 years. He hopes this won’t be his last.

“Another year like we had last year and there will be a lot of boats for sale. We’ll be out. We’ll be out of business,” Johnson said.

Last year, the season was off by 26 percent statewide. It’s all part of a downward trend that is normal for the stone crab cycle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission will share their own monitored catch rate for first two weeks of October. This is a good indicator for how the rest of the season will go.

But for now, the crabbers say they will rely on prayers and blessings from Mother Nature.