Everglades City, located south of Naples and Marco Island at the gateway to the western Everglades, is the birthplace of the stone crab industry and the second-largest supplier of stone crab claws in the nation. And from October to May, it becomes the epicenter of crabby activity. Here’s all you need to know about Florida’s famed crustacean.
Everglades City: Stone Crab Capital of the World
Everglades City, with a population of around 500, is known as the Stone Crab Capital of the World. Florida's Paradise Coast, which includes Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, is one of the largest producers of stone crab claws – second only to the Florida Keys.
One of Everglades City's more colorful characters, Loren "Totch" Brown, claims to have "invented" the stone crab industry. Florida stone crabs used to be a nuisance to commercial fishermen who tried to catch pompano and mullet in their nets, but ended up with stone crabs instead. Brown saw a business opportunity.
"The thought came to my mind that they hadn't been commercialized any place in the United States, and that there ought to be some way to do it," Brown wrote in his book "Totch: A Life in the Everglades." Now deceased, Totch is credited by many with pioneering what is now a multimillion-dollar business and a lifeblood of the local economy.
Fun Facts About Stone Crabs
- The stone crab's large claws can account for half its body weight.
- Only the claws of stone crabs are harvested. The crab is put back in the Gulf of Mexico alive, where it regenerates a new claw.
- Stone crabs use shells as a tool to burrow into the sand. When you come across a stone crab home, it is often covered by shells.
- Female stone crabs produce up to a million eggs at a time, and will produce from four to six egg sacs, called sponges, in a single spawning season.
- The average life span of a stone crab is not known, but is estimated to be between seven and nine years in non-fished regions.
About Florida Stone Crab Fishing
- Florida stone crab season is October 15 to May 15.
- The stone crab fishery is closed during the summer to protect spawning females.
- Crabs are caught in baited traps in the Gulf of Mexico and nearshore estuaries.
- Frozen pigs’ feet is the choice crab bait when the water is warm, and mullet or sharks’ heads when the water is cooler.
From Gulf to Restaurant: Stone Crab Harvesting
- Known as Florida's renewable seafood resource, only claws of at least 2 3/4 inches are harvested. The crab is returned alive to the Gulf of Mexico, where it typically takes a year to generate a new claw, and up to three years for it to reach legal size.
- Research from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission shows approximately 13% of the stone crab claws harvested are regenerated, indicating that stone crabs survive the declawing process.
- Southwest Florida crabbers work hard to harvest the delectable stone crab claws during the annual season. Claws harvested locally find their way to local restaurants and are also shipped fresh overnight to other Florida and national locations.
- Stone crab claws must be steamed immediately upon being brought to the dock and then chilled. This prevents the meat from sticking to the shell.
How to Eat Stone Crabs
- Stone crabs are not cheap; expect to pay anywhere from $25-$100 for a stone crab meal, depending on the previous year’s harvest, amount purchased, and market prices. Claws are sold in fish markets based on size, and price per pound varies accordingly.
- Claws are traditionally served cold with a mustard dipping sauce or drawn butter. The taste is comparable to lobster.
Where to Eat Stone Crabs in Everglades City
- Triad Seafood Market and Café: Screened porch over the Barron River, fresh-fish market and all-you-can-eat stone crab specials (when available). Eat A LOT of stone crab claws and you can pin your photo to the Glutton Board alongside other crab connoisseurs. Other best-bets: fried or grilled grouper, conch fritters, clam chowder, fried gator tail.
- City Seafood: Casual seafood joint with a covered outdoor patio with picnic tables overlooking the Barron River. Bring a cooler to stock up on fresh seafood at the market "to go." Have a cocktail, get their frozen key lime pie for dessert and buy a shirt to take home. Other best bets: whole smoked mullet, smoked fish dip, frog legs.
- Grimm’s Stone Crab: Not a restaurant, but you can buy fresh stone crab claws here and they will crack them for you. Folks from Miami will actually drive over to Grimm’s for stone crab at better prices, and Grimm’s ships fresh overnight, nationwide. Don’t forget to buy mustard sauce!