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By Timothy O'Hara Key West CitizenDecember 27, 2017

The prices for stone crab claws are skyrocketing, but the problem for Florida Keys commercial fishermen is the crabs have been a lot harder to find so far this year.

Keys trap fishermen are hoping that a bountiful stone crab season will help recoup the losses of a dismal spiny lobster season that was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Fishermen are reporting strong prices for crab claws so far. Fishermen are being paid being paid between $25 and $29 a pound for jumbo-size claws, between $18 and $19 for larges and roughly $13 for mediums, according to fishermen.

“Santa Clause didn’t fill the traps this year,” Conch Key-based fisherman Gary Nichols said Tuesday while out fishing.

“The price has been phenomenally good, but the catch has been phenomenally poor.”

Stock Island trap fishermen George Niles said “prices are through the roof,” but “nobody is catching much.”

Niles speculated that Hurricane Irma could have caused the stone crabs to move around, altered the underwater geography and created other changes that are impacting the fishermen’s abilities to catch them.

Spiny lobster trap fishermen spent nearly two months looking for their traps after Hurricane Irma and could not concentrate solely on fishing.

“We lost two months during the best part of the season,” Niles said.

Nichols is in the process of applying for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help pay for traps and equipment damaged or lost in the storms, he said.

“I am in the system, but have not received anything yet,” Nichols said. “I could use an influx of money right now. I just need a loan. I will pay it back.”


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