Sarasota’s Stone Crab Season: October through May

stonecrab_optSarasota native Robin Draper is a columnist and owner of the award-winning “Blog of the Year” and “Best Travel Blog” and website, AuthenticFlorida.com, that features travel and lifestyle topics. He shares some “good to know” info about Stone crab.  Sarasota, Florida has always been a food destination.  On your next trip to Sarasota check out the seafood!

“Considered to be one of the most delicious crustaceans of the world, stone crab season in Sarasota has our mouths watering! Running from mid fall until late spring, residents and tourists alike can enjoy this seafood delicacy, which has a consistency similar to Florida lobster, but with a distinctive “richness of flavor” that makes it a favorite.

Harvested from Oct. 15 through May 15, the opening of the season coincides with cooler fall weather, giving us a reason to celebrate one of Florida’s most popular delicacies. It is common to see fans lining up at local seafood restaurants, or calling ahead to place advance orders for enjoying stone crabs at home.

In Florida, when a stone crab party invitation arrives, it is rarely turned down and stone crab claws traditionally show up on menus during holiday celebrations.

Another distinction, and one that conservationists love, is the “renewable” nature of this seafood resource. When a claw is removed from a stone crab it grows back.

Typically, when crabbers pull the crabs from underwater traps they remove one claw, quickly returning the crab to its habitat to regenerate its claw. Taking just one claw allows the crab to protect and feed itself while regenerating. Within one year, the stone crab has grown a new claw.

What is a stone crab?

The stone crab has a round body with rounded claws and crawls on the sea bottom but does not swim. Found primarily in the near-shore waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico, stone crabs are caught in crab traps. Commercial fishermen set hundreds, even thousands of traps clustered in areas where the crabs congregate. They generally check the traps every few days then harvest the catch and deliver fresh stone crab directly to local markets and restaurants.

Brett Wallin, owner of Walt’s Restaurant and Seafood and a fourth generation Sarasota fisherman, shares his favorite tips for enjoying stone crab:

How do you eat stone crab?

Stone crab is traditionally enjoyed cold rather than hot. One pound per person is usually sufficient. “Claws come in a variety of sizes: medium (6-8 per pound); large (4-5 per pound); jumbo (3-4 per pound) and colossal (2 per pound). The hard crab shell is cracked and the tender white meat is removed.”

“To maintain its freshness, our crabbers pull up the traps and either cook the crab aboard the boat or bring it to us immediately where we steam it, says Wallin. Then we refrigerate it. “You’ll know you are eating fresh stone crab when it gently pulls from the shell and does not stick. And we never freeze our stone crab.”

How much does stone crab cost?

“Depending on how plentiful the season is, stone crab can range in price. We generally price the crab according to harvest conditions.”

Buying Stone Crab to Take Home

“If you buy from our market, we will pre-crack the claws for you. There is an art to cracking stone crab,” reports Wallin.  “If you crack the crab on your own, place the crab claw in the palm of your hand, and with a butter knife or the back of a large spoon smack each side of the claw and each knuckle to create a clean crack. Many folks use too much force smashing the crab into the meat, creating extra work. Or you can just purchase a “Florida Cracker” designed specifically for stone crabs.”

How do I prepare stone crab?

When you buy stone crab it will be cooked. So, serving it cold is the freshest way to enjoy this delicacy. It is normally served with hot butter or a special mustard sauce. Stone crab is filling, so you may want to keep the menu items light and be sure to include a local key lime pie – an ideal chaser to this rich meal.

Can I catch my own stone crab?

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the governing regulatory agency, recreational crab fishers are limited to five traps per person, requiring a recreational fishing license. There are specifications for traps and size limits for the claws.

Where can I eat stone crab?

Stone crab is served at primarily local Sarasota seafood restaurants, from mom and pop eateries to the white tablecloth establishments. But always call ahead to be sure it’s on the menu.

Sarasota native Robin Draper is a columnist and owner of the award-winning “Blog of the Year” and “Best Travel Blog” and website, AuthenticFlorida.com, that features travel and lifestyle topics.”

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