History of Florida Blue Crab Fishery

Blue crab is an economically important species in the state of Florida.  In 2013, approximately 6.6 million pounds were landed with a value of $9.6 million (NOAA OST). Over 65% of these landings came from the Gulf side of the state. However, it can be difficult to determine exact location of landings. Due to short driving time between coasts, the fishery is highly mobile, and crabs harvested on one side of the state may be documented as landed on the opposite coast (ASMFC 2004, Cooper, Gandy, and Crowley 2013).  Florida blue crab landings account for close to 10% of total Gulf landings. The fishery of consists primarily of the hard shell blue crab (Cooper, Gandy, and Crowley 2013), though there is a peeler and soft shell crab fishery that was worth about $500, 000 in 2013 (NOAA OST). The dominant gear is wire-coated traps, which account for 99% of catch. Shrimp trawl bycatch of blue crabs was once thought to be a significant source of removal. The 1996 net ban restricted shrimp trawls to fish in waters past nine miles from the Gulf coastline, reducing the likelihood of incidental blue crab catch (Cooper, Gandy, and Crowley 2013). However, shrimp trawls may keep 200 pounds of blue crab bycatch per trip. Other gears, such as crab lines, are legal but essentially unused in the commercial fishery.

The number of blue crab fishermen in Florida has decreased drastically over the last 30 years. In 1994, Florida crab fishermen represented 60% of crabbers in the Gulf, and landings were 8.5 million pounds, 17% of Gulf-wide landings.  In 1998, a moratorium was placed on the issuance of new blue crab endorsements (Murphy, McMillen-Jackson, and Mahmoudi 2007).  In 2007, FWC implemented a Blue Crab Effort Management Plan (BCEMP) to address concerns of overcapacity, seasonal overcrowding of traps in certain zones, high number of user conflicts, and latent licenses in the fishery. Licenses are broken down into different endorsements, hard crab (VH), soft shell, (VS), non-transferrable (VN), and incidental catch (VI), and tags are issued for each license type. License type also indicates how many traps may be fished. VH endorsement entitles the owner to 600 inshore traps and 400 offshore traps in the Gulf of Mexico, with an allowed take of 150 soft shell crabs as bycatch per day. VS allows the license holder 400 peeler traps and to operate a shedding facility with more than three tanks; the VN endorsement allows the holder to fish with 100 hard shell traps in any state waters and 150 soft shell crabs may be landed daily. VN endorsement holders may also operate shedding facilities with less than three tanks. The VI endorsement allows those who hold a stone crab endorsement, or someone who can demonstrate landings of blue crabs as bycatch in legal shrimping gear, to harvest and sell up to 200 pounds of blue crabs as bycatch per trip. Since the implementation of the moratorium and the BCEMP, license numbers reduced to 950 in 2011, representing 17% of Gulf crabbers, and landings were 1.6 million pounds, 3% of Gulf landings (Cooper, Gandy, and Crowley, 2013; Perry and VanderKooy 2015).


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