The other day I caught up with friend and fellow Goodlander, Stephen Finn, aka “Crabby Stephen.” Visitors to Stan’s Idle Hour will recognize Stephen as the guy on the corner selling blue crabs, stone crabs and smoked mullet out of his most awesome, army-green jeep. During a dog play-date with my B.B. Wrinkles, and Stephen’s Bella, we sat and talked all things crab. Here’s a bit about what I learned regarding the blue crab industry, straight from the crabber’s mouth.
While his business name is “Crabby Stephen,” Finn is anything but. Growing up on the outer banks of North Carolina, he picked up the laid back attitude of the south but also the hard working ethic of a fisherman. In fact, he was only eight years old when he began helping his family in the commercial fishing industry. “I was born and raised in the industry. Everybody took me out. It was a part of life. It wasn’t ‘let’s go out and fish,’ it was, ‘let’s go out and get dinner,’” adds Finn.
Stephen’s first paid job, at eight, was fishing for mullet. “I’ve been on just about every end of the fishing business. From mullet fishing to trolling for tuna to selling seafood to the pack houseand now, to where I’m doing my own thing, and I’m kind of loving it.”
His own thing came about two years ago when he moved to Goodland to help his uncle, Matt Finn, with his mangrove trimming business. “Matt has a blue crab license and traps that he wasn’t using. So I figured, if he’s not using them, I might as well. I started doing this as a side gig and it turned into a little more than just that.” After his first Sunday at Stan’s two years ago, he realized it could be quite profitable. He set out more traps, caught more blue crabs and sold more blue crabs. He now offers fresh stone crab claws and smoked mullet.
“I catch a lot of the mullet using hand thrown, cast nets. I also catch a lot of stone crabs in my blue crab traps. The “incidental take permit” allows me to sell those. But most of my stone crabs I get are green; right off the boat from Everglades City.” The term “green” means the claws have not yet been cooked. This means Stephen cooks all the stone crabs that he sells as well as the mullet and blue crabs. Live blue crabs are also available for purchase.
Currently, Stephentrolls the backwaters and bays around Goodland and the Ten Thousand Islands seven days a week. With about 60 traps in the water, he checks each one every day. If the trap is full of crabs, he’ll empty it out, separate what he can take from what he can’t, reset the bait and toss the trap back in. To keep a blue crab it must measure five inches from point to point, or one end of the body to the other. “I sometimes catch catfish, starfish, hermit crabs and spider crabs,” he adds. All of these get tossed back to freedom.
If a trap is empty, Stephen may consider moving it to a new location. “The blue crab is a finicky crab. One day you may find them out in the bay and the next day they are in the backwaters. With just the slightest bit of weather, those crabs will take off.”
The traps are designed in a special manner for the fast moving sea-floor dwellers. “Blue crabs are also kind of smart. They have an instinct to escape. So if it’s a single-level trap they’ll come in and eat the bait and go right back out. But the trap’s design is so the blue crab’s “easiest way out”is to go into the trap.” They then get stuck in what is called the “condo” area of the trap. Once they are stuck, they will still try to find a way out. The crabs will find the smallest break within the trap. “You can tell on your trap if even one mesh line is broken because you will see all the crabs in the trap congregated in that area, waiting in line to get out of the hole,” explains Stephen.
The hooks that hold the traps closed are designed to biodegrade if a trap ever goes rogue. This way, anything stuck in the trap will be able to escape, rather than to perish on the ocean floor.
Stephen’s homemade boat, “The Mighty Crab Hauler,” is often his only companion during long days out on the water. “I made the boat myself,” he explains. “It’s made up of what was just lying around. And it was free. So I figured, why not?”
He may not be using the almighty “Crab Hauler” much longer, however. With the success he’s found at Stan’s, Stephen has begun planning for expansion in the future. The plans would call for a larger boat as Stephen is hoping to soon put out about 250 traps. He’s alsoin the process of purchasing his uncle’s blue crab license. “Right now I’m under what they call a blue crab apprenticeship. That’s what you have to do to take over the license. You actually have to work under a blue crab license for a certain amount of time before you can purchase it and do it yourself,” he explains.
Once he ups the ante, Stephen will eventually be able to sell commercially. But for now, he’s happy to hang out at Stan’s on Sundays. “I’m living life and loving life. Sometimes I get frustrated, but I look around and think, ‘it’s not a bad office.’ Last summer I traveled 25,000 miles through 22 states. But to watch the sunset over the Everglades is like nothing else.”
So it seems that Stephen will be serving up blue crab, stone crab and smoked mullet for quite some time in our area. Take advantage while you can. Pick up a dozen blue crab, live or freshly steamed with beer and Old Bay seasoning for a mere $20 the next time you head out to Stan’s on a Sunday. You’ll see Stephen, right across the street. Watch as he cooks his merchandise right on the spot, and enjoy a South Florida treat that few restaurants feature on their menus.