When Is Stone Crab Season in Florida? | Everything You Must Know

The stone crab season is an important event in Florida. Fresh stone crabs are some of the most delicious ingredients you can get in the country. Not only are they flavorful, but they also offer a unique texture that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Unfortunately, the best way to get the most out of Florida stone crab is to prepare it fresh. In other words, you must wait for the stone crab season.

If you’re in Florida during such a famous season, you better prepare for it. I’m in love with stone crabs, so there’s no way I’d miss a season. Here’s the complete guide you need for buying fresh stone crab!

When Does the Stone Crab Season Start?

You can get in-depth information about the season from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It states that the “event” goes from October 15th to May 1st. Simply put, you’ll get about six and a half months to get these delicious ingredients.

The Florida Stone Crab Fishery makes up for 99% of stone crab landings in the country. In other words, it’s crucial for many businesses in the state.

What makes this fishery different is that it harvests fresh stone crab claws and returns the crabs to the water.

Learning as much as possible about this season ensures you pick the perfect time to buy and eat stone crabs.

You can check the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website for more information about the stone crab population every year.

When Can You Start Stone Crab Harvesting?

Like with any other wildlife, there are some regulations for harvesting stone crab claws. There are “seasonal” rules for getting stone crabs to prevent overfishing and keep its population in check.

If it were legal to harvest stone crab claw all year long, that would lead to a decline in availability throughout Florida.

The regulations ensure that stone crabs have a few months to regenerate their lost claws, as well as mate and let the eggs hatch and grow.

People responsible for setting baited traps, on the other hand, ensure that all the harvests are ready for restaurants and wholesale stores.

You can start harvesting as soon as the season starts, and you must follow all rules and regulations.

Why Is Florida a Popular Location to Harvest Stone Crabs?

Technically, you could get fresh stone crab meat from many places on the Atlantic coast. However, Florida remains the most popular destination for harvesting.

I’ll make things simple for you: Stone crab from Florida just tastes better.

Some argue that the stone crabs in the state benefit from such tropical and warm waters, which contribute to their taste.

Of course, seafood lovers will only get that savory taste if they cook them on the same day they’re harvested. Many restaurants deal with this by getting dedicated trappers.

How Do You Harvest Stone Crabs?

Let’s learn more about the rules for harvesting stone crabs. You already know the period people have to set their bait traps, but how does the process work?

The traps use food as bait, which draws the crabs from their hiding place. Once the crab gets to the bait, the trapper will enclose it until they can re-bait the trap, which often happens within 24-38 hours.

Remember, the trapper will get only claws from the crab.

In other words, they will harvest the claws and return the crab to the water. This ensures they have time to re-grow the claws over the next months.

Let’s review some of the most important rules you need to know about the season:

  • Recreational fishers may only set up to five traps, whereas commercial ones can work with 100 at a time. The former can’t use gear to puncture the crab’s body, such as hooks and spears.
  • Harvesting female stone crabs is illegal. In other words, egg-bearing crabs are off the table. You can identify them by their orange/brown sac. It’s illegal to possess or sell these claws outside the crab season.
  • You can place traps up to 10 days before the season starts. However, you can’t tend them until it begins. Furthermore, you have five days after the season ends to remove any trap you set.
  • People can only work the traps during the day.
  • Fishermen over 16 must have a saltwater fishing license to collect these crabs. If you already have a regular fishing license, you can get the other one as an add-on.
  • Your registration number must be on all the traps you set up.
  • The daily bag limit for harvests is one gallon of claws per person or two gallons per vessel (whichever is less).

Even though it’s legal to harvest both of the crab’s claws, some recommend getting only one.

This is because leaving the crab with one claw allows it to get more food, ensuring it grows its missing one back in a shorter period.

Of course, crabs without claws can also get food, but they won’t do it as fast as if they had one.

Learn More About the Stone Crab Population

I already gave you a few facts about the stone crab population, but let’s cover some additional details:

  • Crabs often hide in places where they’re likely to find their meals, although they could also get to places where they can be protected from predators, including octopuses and sea turtles.
  • You can’t take the entire crab out of the sea. This is to ensure there’s no threat to the population.
  • People can find the best stone crabs at seafood markets in Florida.
  • Fishermen who find crabs must place them back into the ocean intact if they detect the egg sac.
  • You can only harvest claws measuring over 2 ⅞” (or 73.025 mm) long. This is to ensure that younger crabs have more time to grow and that you get the best meat possible.

Remember, you can get frozen stone crab from your local market at any moment of the year. However, its flavor will never meet the tenderness that fresh-caught/cooked crabs offer.

It’s crazy to see how seafood restaurants prepare for the season. Of course, getting the best claws could result in more sales during the season.

This is also exciting for seafood lovers like you and me, as these restaurants will make an effort to prepare unique dishes with this ingredient.

There are dozens of different recipes you can prepare with stone crabs, including:

– Creamy stone crab pasta
– Ceviche
– Stone crab salad
– Grilled stone claws
– Stuffed avocados
– Crab rolls

The stone crab season is considerably long for the average person, so if I were you, I’d note the start date on the calendar right now.

Remember, you don’t have to become a culinary expert to enjoy stone crabs.

If you already have a seafood restaurant you enjoy, ask the team about their stone crab options for the season. You’d be surprised to see the amazing dishes they come up with!

Final Thoughts

Many restaurants source their stone crabs from the Florida Keys, so as long as you buy during the season, you’ll get the amazing flavor you must be thinking about right now.

Now that you know everything about the stone crab season in Florida, prepare for the next one, and start reviewing unique recipes to try them out!

If you don’t feel like cooking, you can also check out the most popular restaurants in the state and go for an unforgettable meal with your friends and family.

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Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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