MANATEE -- Florida's favorite crustacean will make its return to menus and markets Tuesday, the first day of stone crab season.
Robert Hicks, co-owner of Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant, 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key, is getting ready for the first catch. He has three stone crab menus prepared -- each with different prices.
"I don't know which one I'm going to put out yet because it's going to depend on the supply for the first couple of days," said Hicks, who gets his crabs from the Gulf, Everglades City and Crystal River.
A good season yields between 2 million and 3 million pounds of stone crabs statewide. According to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, last year's season brought in 2.1 million pounds valued at roughly $23 million. Not terrible, but not great.
In Manatee County, last season yielded 44,000 pounds of stone crab valued at $382,000.
"I'm optimistic," said Hicks, who sells thousands of pounds of crabs per week in a steady season.
"If tomorrow I had 500 pounds of crab, I'd sell every one of 'em," he said.
Ryan Gandy, a research scientist with the FWC, said the first six weeks will be a good indicator of the catch the season will bring.
"As of right now, the numbers we're seeing in our traps are fairly low compared to previous years," he said.
Pinchers Crab Shack, the second-largest purveyor of stone crabs in the country, has boats up and down the west coast of Florida prep
ping for the first catch.
"With us pretty much having our own boats, we're able to get crabs into the restaurants on opening day," Executive Chef John Vorndran said. "It's very rare that restaurants have stone crabs on the first day."
For now, a 1-pound stone crab dinner with two sides is $27.99 for medium claws, $34.99 for large. Prices could fluctuate as the season progresses.
In honor of the homecoming, Pinchers in Lakewood Ranch, 10707 Rodeo Drive, will host its Second Annual Stone Crab Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 2. Customers will enjoy a block party with live music, activities and, of course, stone crabs.
Stone crab season ends May 15.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.