The end of stone-crab season this week may be barely noticed by the Florida Keys commercial fleet.
With costs of making a trip to pull traps often higher than the value of claws harvested, many Monroe County stone-crabbers gave up on the poor season months ago.
The seven-month season, which ended Wednesday, was only weeks old when Gary Graves of Marathon's Keys Fisheries described a harvest "as bad as I can remember during my 45 years in the business.... It's just bleak."
It never improved, Rick Hill of Key Largo Fisheries said Tuesday. Fishermen count on cold weather to lure stone crabs into traps, Hill said.
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"But we never had a winter," he said. "It went from fall to summer. The first cold front didn't hit until March."
For unknown reasons, it has been a banner season for octopus, a predator of stone crabs in the Keys and all along the state's Gulf of Mexico coast.
"When the octopus season went ballistic, the crabs either got attacked or dug themselves in," Hill said.
Last season, Monroe County produced about 1.1 million pounds of legal-size claws, accounting for a large portion of Florida's total 2.67 million-pound harvest worth an estimated $23.6 million to the commercial fleet. Harvest numbers were largely similar in 2011. Final numbers for the season ending today will not be known for several weeks.
About 1,000 people statewide are licensed to fish traps for stone crabs. Only the claws are kept. Historically, stone-crab harvests have topped three million pounds of claws.
But soon after the current season opened in October 2012, harvests dropped sharply. "Like falling off a cliff," Graves said.
Stone crabs rank behind only lobster in economic impact to the Keys' commercial fishing industry. The new season opens Oct. 15.