Everglades City’s crab fleet was blessed by pastors and baptized in rainwater Saturday, Sept. 27, as families gathered to celebrate the start of another stone crab season.
The event was held on the grounds of the historic Rod and Gun Club on the Barron River. Sponsored by members of the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation, the blessing of the boats was initiated six years ago by Tod Dahlke and local crabbers, according to the society’s president Marya Repko. Saturday’s celebration included local crafters, a frog-jumping contest and a cake baking competition for the best coconut guava confection.
To be sure, the local stone industry could use some prayers this year. In an average year, crabbers will bring 375,000 pounds of stone crab claws through Everglades City canneries. Statewide, that amounts to 2-3 million pounds of claws taken by some 1,200 licensed commercial stone crabbers.
The past three years, though, crab numbers have been falling. In 2012, the catch was off by26 percent and last year by 30 percent. The reasons vary. While there have been natural population fluctuations in recent years, cold snaps and fewer tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico interfere with the movement of the crabs. A rise in the number of octopus in the Gulf — they love stone crabs — also has contributed to low numbers.
As the fleet sailed toward the club, Pastor Bob Wallace of Everglades Community Church prayed, “Most gracious Lord, numbered among your apostles were the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John. And now, we pray that you will consecrate these fishermen to work in your name. Guide the captains at the helm. Keep each crew member safe from harm. Prosper their voyages so that a bountiful living may be made. May the wind always be at their stern, and a following sea bring them to a safe harbor. And may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and theHoly Spirit, be upon these boats and their crew this day and forever.”
The boats tied-up along the shore and rose petals were scattered on their decks by several of the fishermen’s daughters. Individual blessings were bestowed on each vessel by the Rev. Russell Ruggiero, parochial vicar of San Marco Catholic Church.
Florida’s stone crab season begins on October 15 and runs through May 15. The crabs are captured in baited traps. Commercial crabbers may put out long lines of up to 100 traps, each trap attached to a buoy, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife regulations. Recreational crabbers may set out a maximum of five traps and be in possession of a Florida saltwater fishing license.
Once caught, only the larger immovable part of the claw called the propodus may be removed. A legal size claw must be two and three-quarter inches or greater. The crab is then returned to the water to regenerate its claw, which takes about 18 months. Egg-bearing females may not be declawed.