Some local fishermen say they're trapped in a bad stone crab season. This season's bad harvest is driving up prices at restaurants and local fish markets.
"Right now, we're doing everything in our power, including driving to south Florida to pick up stone crabs," said Darryl Wheatley at I.C. Sharks in St. Petersburg.
Florida's stone crab harvest began October 15th and ends May 15th. Fishermen say the season started off strong in Tampa Bay, but for months they've been pulling up nearly empty traps.
"We're struggling to get them and so obviously that hurts our bottom line in the end," said Wheatley. "It's just been a strange season."
Florida Fish & Wildlife marine research associate Charles Crawford says there are crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, they're just hiding out.
"The past two winters, they've been warmer than usual, the crabs really don't move around that much. So they're not out getting caught by the trap," explained Crawford.
Red tide and trap-raiding predators could also be contributing to this season's shortage, he said.
"We do have certain times when the octopus will come into an area and just feast on certain areas and then just move on, which happened in some areas this season," said Crawford.
Researchers agree it's a bad year for fisherman, but say it's just part of the natural cycle of up and down seasons for the state's famous crustaceans.
"Once we come off a few good years, we do have a down slope, you know a few, couple years of bad fishing and I think that's what they're seeing now," explain Crawford.
Wheatley said some local fishermen are catching extra blue crabs this season to make up for their lower stone crab counts. In other parts of the state, some fishermen are putting away their traps early, according to an Associated Press report.
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