Paralithodes camtschaticus is most commonly known as Alaskan King Crab, or more simply as King Crab. But I prefer to call it by its lesser known but equally correct name — Stalin’s Crab. That’s because the real KING in the crab clan is Menippe mercenaria, the Florida Stone Crab. Somebody in the species naming department sure got that one right. Mercinaria is Latin for “something of value”. I think a nomination for employee of the month is in order. This season prices are expected to top $30 a pound for jumbo-sized stone crab claws in some parts of Florida.
I found myself back in Florida again recently, just in time for the beginning of stone crab season. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Florida and understood that stone crabs are a Florida delicacy. I’d even go as far as saying stone crabs are a source of local Floridian pride. This is the time of year when that pride swells to bursting. Still, I had to ask myself, “Why are stone crabs so darn expensive?”
Naturally the answer is supply and demand. Stone crab claws – served cold and cracked – with a mustardy sauce or melted butter (or both) are famously delicious. So the demand is always high. However, after two below-average harvest seasons, the prices have crept up. There’s hope for high yields this year, but the prices don’t yet reflect that.
But you won’t find me complaining. Part of the reason stone crab is so expensive is because the harvest is monitored. Monitoring helps maintain populations, ensuring that stone crabs– though perhaps not plentiful as seafood lovers would like– will be around for future seafood lovers to enjoy.
Stone crab claws are a Florida specialty. They really should be eaten in Florida and nowhere else. There may be a few other gulf states that have great stone crabs…but the claws from the 10,000 Islands area down thru the Florida Keys are the best on the planet. Don’t be fooled by those harvested in Mexico or Ecuador. Not only are they slightly different tasting, they are very poorly harvested.
The Florida stone crab is very well managed. Thereby, it is considered a “sustainable” food resource. Fishermen (or women) harvest only one large claw from each crab. Captured crabs are then returned to the sea and will regenerate their missing claw. This is one factor that makes the stone crab a socially responsible culinary delight. Additionally, there is very little habitat damage associated with the harvest. Stone Crabs are rated Eco-Best by the Environmental Defense Fund. Which means: “Enjoy often due to minimal ecological concerns”.
If you haven’t eaten Florida stone crabs I hope you will someday. They are available online. Personally, I adhere to a “Florida only” rule. So while I’m in Florida I’ll bust open the wallet and enjoy as many stone crab claws as I can afford. GREG