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Crab, Stone (Menippe mercenaria [Florida], M. adina [Gulf])
Also known as: Florida stone crab, Gulf stone crab
Source: Wild-caught in Gulf state waters, mostly from West Florida, with minor harvests from Texas and Louisiana

Stone crabs are found in the western north Atlantic from the Carolinas, throughout the northern Gulf, to the Yucatan Peninsula and throughout the Caribbean. Gulf stone crabs live on mud flats and oyster reefs in nearshore and estuarine areas. Florida stone crabs live in seagrass beds or on rocky bottoms in higher salinity waters.


Stone crabs grow by molting—their hard shell restricts growth so they must shed it to increase in size. They can grow up to six inches carapace (shell) width. Stone crab are able to reproduce by age one. They can only mate after the female has molted and her shell is soft. Large males travel to inshore waters near oyster reefs and seagrass beds to mate with molting females, usually in the fall. They deposit their sperm into the females; females store the sperm over the winter and fertilize their eggs internally during the following spring and summer. Females push the fertilized eggs out beneath their abdomen in a mass called a sponge. They can store as many as one million eggs in the sponge and can produce several sponges in a single spawning season. Stone crab can live up to seven or eight years.

Stone crabs are generally carnivores but will occasionally feed on plant material. Larvae feed on zooplankton while juvenile and adult stone crab feed on shellfish such as mussels, clams, and oysters, anemones, worms, and other crustaceans. Their powerful claws help them crush, cut, and tear their prey. If a crab loses one or both of its claws, it makes feeding more difficult so the crab may change its feeding behavior and resort to scavenging. Fish, larger crabs, sea turtles, and octopi feed on stone crabs, especially juveniles, as they haven’t yet developed their larger claws.


Stone crabs are crustaceans with a hard upper shell and ten legs: eight for swimming and walking and two claws for pinching prey or predators. One is a large crusher claw and the other is a smaller pincer claw with numerous small teeth used for cutting. Stone crabs are usually “right-handed,” meaning that the crusher claw is usually on the right.

There are two species of true stone crabs: Florida (Menippe mercenaria) and Gulf (M. adina). The two also interbreed, creating a hybrid. Gulf stone crabs are maroon brown. Florida stone crab is tan to light gray with small black spots and dark legs with white bands. Stone crab claws have black tips. You can distinguish male and female stone crabs by their abdomen—females have a wide round abdomen and males have a long narrow abdomen.


Two species of stone crabs live in the Gulf— the Florida and Gulf stone crab. They’re fairly similar and regularly interbreed, creating a hybrid of the two. Commercial fishermen catch stone crabs for their valuable front claws. In fact, they only harvest the claws and return the crab back to the water alive so it can regenerate new claws and contribute to future catches. This unique operation helps ensure the long-term sustainability of the stone crab resource.

In the United States, most stone crab claws are landed in Florida, specifically the Gulf Coast. In 2013, commercial fishermen operating on Florida’s Gulf Coast supplied nearly all of the stone crab claws harvested in the United States.

Since the stone crab fishery is most active off Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission management authority for stone crab fisheries in Florida waters. Less than 1% of the Gulf harvest of stone crab claws is landed in other Gulf states (Texas and Louisiana). Their fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing these harvests. Specific management measures vary among the states but generally focus on ensuring stone crabs survive declawing, protecting spawning and egg-bearing crabs, and controlling fishing effort, all to increase the resiliency of the stone crab resource and fishery.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

Most harvests of stone crab claws in the United States come from Florida’s Gulf Coast. In 2013, commercial fishermen landed more than 1.9 million pounds of stone crab claws on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with dockside revenue of nearly $25.2 million, making stone crab the most economically important fishery in Florida. Much smaller amounts of stone crab claws are landed in Texas and Louisiana, with about 9,500 pounds and 1,100 pounds respectively in 2013.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Commercial Fisheries Landings


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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch
Overview

The stone crab fishery is most active in Florida—the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) conducts most research on the stone crab population and monitors the commercial fishery for this species in Florida’s waters. The other Gulf states collect some data on stone crab in their state waters and monitor commercial harvests of stone crab claws, most often taken incidentally in fisheries for blue crab.


Current Abundance

Typical population assessments are not relevant for stone crab—fishermen only harvest their claws and then return them to the water alive. Scientists assess the condition of stone crab by examining trends in landings and effort in the fishery.

According to the latest assessment (2011) in Florida (where most stone crab claws are harvested), the status of the stone crab stock is best indicated by the lack of an increase in landings when the number of traps more than doubled. The current level of landings represents all that can be harvested under current environmental conditions, regulations, and fishery practices. Simply put, a certain number of claws can be harvested each season and fishermen compete with each other for those claws. The fishery is fully exploited and any further gains in landings, most likely, will come from expanding the fishing grounds.

Stone crabs may be resilient because most female stone crabs spawn one or more times before their claws reach legal size, some crabs survive declawing, and the fishery is closed during the principal spawning season. However, because of the reproductive behavior of stone crabs, there is concern for adequate numbers of large, mature males.

Other Gulf states have not officially assessed the abundance of stone crabs in their waters.


Additional Research

Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is primarily responsible for managing the stone crab resource in the Gulf. The FWC and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council previously shared management responsibility, with Florida in charge of state waters and the Council in charge of federal waters; but, because stone crab fisheries mostly operate in Florida state waters, the authorities realized this system was inefficient and duplicated efforts. To streamline management and reduce costs, the Council transferred full management authority of the stone crab resource to the FWC.

A small number of stone crab claws are harvested in Texas and Louisiana, often incidentally in fisheries for blue crab.


Management Program

In Florida, specific management measures include seasonal closures, gear restrictions, licensing and permitting requirements, and minimum claw size limits. In Texas and Louisiana, most management measures for blue crab fisheries typically apply to stone crab, except fishermen may only harvest legal-size stone crab claws, rather than the whole crab. For more on state management, click the state tabs.