Southwest Florida fishers suspect that Hurricane Matthew is the primary factor influencing the development of a red tide that has had a negative impact on the stone crab harvests this year.
This situation is quite frustrating for local communities who have been eagerly waiting for the stone crab season. According to the latest reports, fishers were unable to set their crab traps along the Gulf coast because Hurricane Matthew hit lots of beaches.
When they were finally able to set out some traps, they ran into muddy waters and dead fish left behind by the red tide bloom which killed more than a few thousand fish this month. According to fishery manager Damas Kirk, the red tide didn’t kill stone crabs but instead, it helped them avoid the traps.
How Are Crabs Affected by Red Tide
The explanation to are crabs affected by red tide is simple because many dead marine creatures can be found on the bottom, so stone crabs have plenty food, meaning they no longer need to search for it on the beach. These crabs feed on anything they find, so basically they live by the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’
The lowest stone crab harvest was recorded in the 2013-2014 season when fisheries managers in Florida caught 1.9 million pounds of crabs. Also, the 2014-2015 harvest was of 2.2 million pounds.
The 2015-2016 harvest was high, but because the water remained warm, crab prices have significantly dropped off compared with previous years. When the water is warm, fishers can harvest stone crabs later into the season, and that is why the prices remain low because there is an abundance of crabs on the local market.
Stone crabs are harvested for their unique claws, which should be around 2 to 3-inch long. It is worth mentioning that these harvests can be done more than once. After fishers remove the claws, the crabs are free to return to the water.
Kirk adds that although this season will last until May 15th, the harvest will begin when the red tide disappears. Also, this algal bloom can occur again if water temperatures rise, or in the case of a weather event such as the Hurricane Matthew.
It is hard for fishers to determine when or if the red tide will bloom again because it has been observed in many areas regardless if there was freshwater or not.
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