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Enjoying Local Seafood; What’s in Peak Season for March?

Continuing our monthly series of “what’s in season for this month?” we take a look at March.

 

Several species that were in season for February are still in season now – those include:

Clams, Oysters, Pompano, Pink Shrimp, Snapper, and Spanish Mackerel.  You can read about these by visiting by scrolling down the website or clicking http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/nat/2016/02/08/enjoying-local-seafood-whats-in-peak-season-for-february/

 

This month we add two new ones: Blue crab and Yellowtail Snapper.  Yellowtail snapper are not a common commodity in the northern Gulf, but in this age of globalization yellowtail caught in the Keys could be found at the market here in the panhandle.  Blue crab however is another story.

The common blue crab is one of the most popular seafood items along the Gulf coast. Photo: Molly O'Connor

The common blue crab is one of the most popular seafood items along the Gulf coast.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

Blue Crab

This is a personal favorite of mine. The majority of the commercial harvest of blue crab is from the peninsula part of the state, but it is harvested in Alabama, Mississippi in large numbers and – by definition (see February article) – is considered “local” for some parts of the panhandle.

Blue crabs are tough creatures – spending most of their lives within the estuary. Estuaries are tough places to live.  Changing tides and rainfall constantly change the clarity, salinity, and temperature of the system – which they must endure – and they do!  Throw on top of that the large volume of stormwater discharged from our neighborhoods and days can be hard on blue crabs… but they make it.

 

The male crabs prefer the lower salinities of the upper estuary while the females are more at home near the Gulf. During breeding the two groups meet in the mid estuary to exchange gametes.  The male provides the female a sac of sperm called a spermatophore just after she molts (sheds her shell).  Returning to the lower bay she will fertilize her eggs when she feels conditions are good.  The developing eggs remain under the female and form the “spongy mass” many locals are familiar with.  Newly fertilized eggs will produce an orange mass, which becomes more brown with age.  “Gravid females”, as they are called, are illegal to harvest.  These gravid females move into the open Gulf – usually near the mouth of the bay but they may travel farther.  She will release the eggs here and the developing young become part of the plankton.  They go through several molt stages – nauplii, zoea, megalops, as they are carried back into the estuary where the postlarval juveniles grow while hiding in the seagrasses and salt marshes of these shallow bays.

 

Unfortunately, the commercial landings of blue crab all across the Gulf coast have been down for several years. Resource managers believe the cause has been drought.  Though some areas of the panhandle have received a lot of rain – the NOAA data indicates that the overall region has been in a drought.  The adult crabs seem to be okay with the low water inflow and higher salinities – but the developing larva not so much.  This will be continuingly monitored.

 

Harvesting of blue crab is done by crap traps (usually placed on the bottom with bait and folding panels – when the crab enters the fishermen pulls the trap up), crab pots (wired traps with opening funnels for crabs to enter – these are placed on the bottom and the location marked by attached buoys or floats), or by hand nets while wading in the grassbeds and salt marshes. Commercial shrimpers are allowed to sell by-catch blue crab caught in their trawls but they are limited as to how much.  Crab pots must be registered with the FWC if not attached to a dock.  The limit of crab for recreational harvest is 10 pounds whole / harvester / day.  Recreational harvesters must remove traps manually and cannot have more than 5 traps / harvester.

 

To learn more about blue crab recreational harvesting in Florida visit

http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/blue-crab/