January 13, 2014
Recreational and commercial stone crab season runs from October 15th through May 15th each year in state and federal waters off the coast of Florida. Know how to preserve this truly renewable resource!
REGULATIONS: Current regulations allow recreational trappers to deploy up to five traps through the October 15 to May 15 season. A saltwater fishing license is required.
Unlike other Florida seafood, the entire crab is not harvested—only the claws are removed, releasing the crab alive. Claws must be 2 7/8 inches in length to harvest, and females bearing eggs must be released immediately with claws intact. Current bag limit: 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per boat.
Both claws may be taken if each is legal size (though it's recommended to leave one claw so the crab can defend itself and scavenge for food). Crab traps must have the harvester's name and address legibly marked on the trap; the buoy must be marked with an R to represent “Recreational.” Crab traps tied off to a dock don't need a marker. Don't deploy your traps in navigation channels, and only pull traps during daylight hours.
CRAB CARE: To guarantee the crab you caught is a stone crab, look for white bands around the legs. This differentiates the stone crab from other mud crabs. From there, measure each crab claw in a straight line from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable finger. If it's longer than 2 7/8 inches, it's legal. When removing a claw, make sure not to break off the joint that connects the claw from the body—that leads to ripped muscle, bleeding out and guarantees that a new claw will never grow back. For proper claw removal, never twist the claw. Instead, break down with a sharp, quick movement.
A stone crab can re-grow a claw in about a year, or one molting period. But to re-grow a claw to legal size, it takes three years (or three molting periods). Younger crabs can grow claws faster; older crabs (stone crabs can live up to 9 years) may never re-grow their claws.
For more information on stone crabs, see our full article "How to Catch and Cook Stone Crabs" here.