May 15 is the end of stone crab season.
That means diners will have to wait five months until they can tie on their bibs and crack open those claws.
But, this season, it’s been tougher than usual for hungry feasters to get their hands on stone crab claws.
The season started out strong Oct. 15, but, by mid-December, there was a lull.
Alan Moore, co-owner of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant in the Longbeach Village, said it’s the slowest stone crab season he remembers in 15 years. As a result, the price of a stone crab dinner that once cost $31 has gone as high as $40.
Karen Bell, general manager of the A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish Co., both in Cortez, said that most of the company’s crab trappers have ended their season early.
“They haven’t gone out in the last couple of weeks because it doesn’t pay their fuel,” she said.
The dry spell isn’t due to a lack of stone crabs, according to Moore. The stone crabs are plentiful in the waters, but octopi, Goliath groupers and sea turtles — the top-three predators of stone crabs — have gotten to them before fishermen and diners could.
When cold fronts come through, stone crabs bury themselves 1 or 2 feet deep in the sand, but in the absence of cold weather, they stay out in the open, allowing predators to find them.
“You need a cold front to come through every 11 or 12 days,” Moore said.
Still, Eric Hammersand, owner of Dry Dock Waterfront Restaurant, found that the local supply of stone crab improved following December’s lows.
Red tide impacted areas to the south of Sarasota, which experienced an even slower season.
“Locally here, we’ve had a consistent supply,” Hammersand said.
Although this year’s season was slower than usual, that doesn’t necessarily mean next year’s stone crab season will be a bust.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Moore said. “It’s just a guessing game.”