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‘Farmers of the sea’: A Florida stone crab’s journey from the Gulf to SW FL restaurants

Diana Biederman | Naples Daily News

Murky. Messy. Tedious. Physically challenging.

These are the words I’ve used when describing stone crabbing to friends.

Until recently, this reporter held a fishing license with official recreational stone crab registration. I didn’t renew for 2023-24 as we no longer have a boat. A friendly neighbor is the beneficiary of our traps.

True confession: I’ve never eaten Florida stone crabs at a restaurant, given they’re so expensive and because we often had plenty plus extra claws in the freezer. For years, dinner chez Diana was a coveted invitation because that’s what we usually served.

While most area restaurants start serving these gems Oct. 16, how does one restaurant group with 25 locations spanning Tampa south to Key West get claws for their guests on Oct. 15, day one for legal harvesting of this pricey delicacy?

For answers, I headed to Pine Island on Oct 15.

Fresh off the boat
“Suits Me” Capt. Jason Bigler unloaded his catch around 2 p.m. while his crew cleaned his charter boat after docking. Their workday started at 5:30 a.m.

Windy weather made for a choppy day on the water. A peek inside Bigler’s stone crab basket looked like it was three-quarters full. He estimated it was 40 pounds.

Some traps had two or three crabs, but he said “quite a few had zero.”

Bigler has 2,700 traps in the Gulf and pulls (fishing lingo for checking) about 300 to 400 each trip. Diesel fuel, bait (pigs’ feet) and labor costs are among his expenses.

Read the full story on including How Pincher’s Crab Shacks get their stone crabs, and more fisherman stories and photos.

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