Tin City center of stone crab celebration


Season has returned.


Hundreds of families, locals and visitors shut down Tin City on a breezy clear Friday night for live music, beer tents, games, dancing and, primarily, to crack more than 3,000 pounds of stone crab.


The meaty, flaky local delicacy is typically found in the Gulf. It’s unique among fished game in that fishermen don’t necessarily kill the crabs to eat them. Their large black-tipped claws can be cut off, and the stone crabs tossed back to be caught again in a year or so when their claws have regrown.


The Stone Crab Festival runs all weekend.


If the Great Dock Canoe Race held every spring celebrates the end of season in downtown Naples, then the stone crab fest, now in its sixth year, has begun to mark the start of it.


It’s time for many to gear up for more traffic, busier restaurants and longer work days, said Kevin Rooney of Pincher’s Crab Shack and a member of the Old Naples Waterfront Association, which runs the festival.


“This is like our welcome back,” Rooney said. “And what better way to do it then with something caught right here in the Gulf.”


The event helps draw attention, not just to the stone crab, but to a burgeoning food scene in Southwest Florida, said Derrick Peltz, Fort Myers native and recent runner up on the competitive cooking show “MasterChef.”


“There is a great culinary scene here that’s getting bigger and better,” Peltz said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”


Stone crab season started Oct. 15 and runs until May.


The last two stone crab seasons have been the lowest harvest totals on record — aside from the 2005-06 season that was marred by a hurricane, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.


“The price has been at an all-time high, because of supply and demand,” said Frank McCloy, spokesman for the commission.


In fact, stone crab prices rose so high last year that even though crabbers landed 2.2 million pounds of stone crab — the second lowest total since at least 1986 — the value of the catch was a record high estimated at $31.3 million, according to data from FWC.


“Last year numbers were a little better than the year before, and this year should be about the same, but we don’t really do predictions,” McCloy said.


Boats have only been in the water for a little over a week, but the early returns are looking promising for the season, said Rooney, of Pincher’s Crab Shack.


“The traps have been catching them and the early feedback has been very favorable,” Rooney said.