The seven-month stone crab season officially opened in state and federal waters on Oct. 15, which kicked off the busy season for the Barnhill Fisheries Inc. crab house in Matlacha.
"It's our go time for the next seven months," said Eddie Barnhill Jr., a three-generation fisherman.
In order to get ready for the opening of the season, Barnhill, who has been trapping since 1995, said he spent the past five months getting everything in order for a seamless start. In addition to making sure the boat is in working condition, and replacing the traps that were lost last season, every trap had to also be renewed with an up-to-date certification and tag.
EDDIE BARNHILL, JR.
Eddie Barnhill Jr. and his crew get ready to head out in the water to throw their stone crab traps into the water for the Oct. 15 opening of the season.
He said every year they lose about 8 to 10 percent of their traps, or 750 traps, due to weather and boats, which at $25 a trap adds up. Barnhill said in labor cost alone during the summer they spent $20,000 to ensure they were ready to hit the water early October.
Barnhill said they broke even during last year's stone crab season.
The expenses continue once the season begins. Barnhill said it cost about $1,000 a day to go out on the water, due to fuel, the cost of bait and wages for the working fishermen.
On Oct. 5, Barnhill and a group of three fishermen set out at midnight to start throwing the traps. The constant hours continued all day Friday and through Saturday, until a break was taken later that night.
The fishermen set back out to continue the throwing of the traps around 3 a.m. Sunday before taking another break around 7 that night. The early morning and late night fishing continued until all 7,500 traps were set. Barnhill said each boatload can hold up to 700 traps at a time.
Although Barnhill has traveled a 100-mile stretch up and down the coast in previous seasons, this year Barnhill decided to throw most of the traps south about 50-miles along the coast.
Once the traps are out, it turns into a waiting game to see what they will find once they pull them out of the water.
Barnhill said all they can do is hope for south, southwest, north or northwest winds because it makes the waves bigger, therefore turning the bottom and making the water muddy, which increases the mobility of the stone crabs.
Monday around midnight, the group of fishermen headed back out to sea to pull the traps, which Barnhill said they will do for 11 days. The line of traps thrown in the water, he said, can range from a hundred to a couple.
Once they arrive at a buoy, they pull the line and if the trap did not contain any crabs they will move it to a new area.
In order for the trapped stone crabs to be harvested, their claws have to be 2 3?4 inches in length, which has to be measured from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable portion of its claw. Barnhill said they are not allowed to harvest egg-bearing females.
Before they leave the line, Barnhill said they break off the claws because they are not allowed to bring the crabs back to the docks.
In about a year, the claws will grow back.
Although the price of the crab would not be known until late Sunday, early Monday morning, Barnhill said a good, profitable trap contains anywhere from a half pound to a pound of crab.
The price of the crab depends on the grade size of the crab they are catching.
Barnhill said it is all about catching quality crab.
"I'd rather catch large crab," he said. "The quality is where the money's at."
In years past, the crabs ranged in price from $5.75 medium crab, to $13 or $14 for jumbo crab.
"The price of stone crabs is important to us," Barnhill said.
The crab house opened five years ago and currently has 10 other crab boats contributing.
"As a fish house owner, I have to take care of the fishermen," he said of the 10 other boats. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be making money either."
Barnhill said he provides bait and a place for the other fishermen to sell their stone crabs.
In addition to the crab house, the Barnhills also have the Seafood Market and Barnhill Seafood Spot in Matlacha. He said he will be selling the crab he catches in the restaurant and market, which guarantees a fresh product.