Kirk’s Seafood is located in Goodland on Papaya Street between The Little Bar Restaurant and The Old Marco Lodge. It provides fresh seafood for retail sale as well as a home for the boats and crab traps that belong to our local stone crabbers. Here I met with Dennis Doxsee, his son Daniel Doxsee, and Walt Stout to discuss the stone crab industry. Dennis isa third generation stone crabber and comes from a long line of fisherman dating back to the early 1900s on Marco Island. The knowledge that has been passed down through the years within this family was very evident when talking to Dennis and his son, Daniel, who has been in the industry since he was thirteen.
These three men work on their own boats, as well as a larger boat, and drop more than 5,000 traps into the Gulf waters during stone crab season. The season begins on October 15 and runs through May 15. Each trap weighs between 50 and 60 pounds when empty, and requires cleaning, painting and fixing during the off-season. The traps are dropped anywhere from two to thirty miles off shore and their location is stored via GPS. They are made of plastic and have a cement base to keep them on the ocean floor. Each trap is equipped with an “eat-out board” which is a small piece of wood drilled into the plastic that the crabs can eat through to escape if thetrap is somehow lost. Hydraulic lifts are used to pull the heavy traps out of the water. The crabs are removed and the trap is re-dropped. The claws must be at least 2 ¾ inches to be pulled and both can be taken from the crabs. “Stone crabbing is a renewable resource, like picking oranges from a tree. The crabs will regenerate their claws over time and can live while missing both claws,” Walt explained.
Even though recreational laws in the state of Florida allow individuals to have up to five stone crab traps, the job is certainly not for everyone. According to Dennis, the stone crabbing trade is “brutal.” Twelve-hour days and heavy lifting in seas that can be unforgiving are accompanied by the occasional pinch from a stone crab. According to the men, it feels like having your finger slammed in a car door. “You definitely have to love this job to be able to do it,” adds Daniel.
As stone crab season has now officially started, I suggest a trip down to Goodland to try the claws that have become a Southwest Florida tradition. Most of our local restaurants carry them and you can even sneak a peak at the boats that pulled them out of the water just for you. While you enjoy these tasty treats remember the hard work involved to get them on your plate. Please feel free to pass one of Goodland’s almost unbelievable stories on to your friends and remind them: crustacean molestation is no joke.