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Florida red tide blamed for the poor stone crab season

The prolonged red tide bloom in Florida has apparently an impact on the stone crab population.
(iStock)

An unusually long toxic algae bloom, also known as the red tide, is likely due to a shortage of stone crabs (a popular delicacy in the high season) in Florida this year.

Certain specific areas along the coast of the gulf — such as the Everglades City — were affected by the shortage. A seasoned angler, Rick Collins, recently told The New York Times this stone crab season, which is annually from October to May it is “about the worst I have ever seen.”

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Stephen Sawitz, owner of Joe’s Stone Crab in South Beach, told the newspaper the stone crab supply “off” about 40 percent this year. Last year, the not-so-great season spent 2.1 million pounds of stone crabs, compared to an average of 3.7 million pounds, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The red tide bloom is a harmful algal bloom (HAB), which occurs when “colonies of algae — simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on humans, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds,” according to the National Ocean Service. While this event is, of course, the current bloom in Florida is one of the longest in recent history, with a duration of more than a year, according to The New York Times.

This year the red tide has probably already worse and longer due to human activities, such as agriculture, development, and production, Richard Bartleson, a research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who earlier told Fox News.

Over the past number of years, the build-up of chemical substances such as phosphorus and nitrogen, among other elements that are typically found in the fertilizer — have provided “the perfect nutrients” to worsen the bloom, Bartleson said. These substances reach the sea through surface drains, which are located after a rainstorm, a tropical storm or hurricane.

Bartleson, said the current red tide is partly due to the surface end caused by the Hurricane Irma, while the red tide that affected much of the central west coast in 2005 and 2006 were exacerbated by the active hurricane season in 2004.

Generally, in marine life, the toxins of the red tide “affects the nervous system and red blood cells,” he noted.

While the stone animals have a natural resistance to the bloom and can usually “bounce back”, Fox 13 reports — the long-term occurrence of this year, has probably had an impact on the stone crabs’ ability to do just that.

“Once it gets over the three-day mark, we begin to see an increase in the animals’ response to stress, and we also see an increase in the mortality of the animals,” Philip Gravinese, a researcher with the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, told the news station.

“That’s another reason a few years after the bloom, we see a decrease in [the] catch,” he added.

A lack of oxygen in the water due to the red tide toxin may also have an impact on the stone crabs.

While the stone crab population in certain parts of the state largely avoid the effects of the red tide, according to the Tampa Bay Times, the same is not true for many anglers in Florida — at least one of them told The New York Times, he was forced to sell his fishing boat and crab traps.

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“I can’t survive in the fishing business,” Eddie Barnhill, a crabber from Pine Island, told the publication. “I used to run 50 miles one way to go crabbing, and there is no scratch is there now. There [are] crabs 150 km, but you can’t do that in one day.”

The shortage not only affects crabbers. Those hoping to dine on the delicacy may have to pay more this year. In fact, the famous Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant was forced to raise the price of stone crab claws for the first time in three years, The New York Times reported.

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