Red tide severely disrupts southwest Florida stone crab season

Stone crabs. Photo via WINK News.
Stone crabs. (Credit: WINK News)

From 60,000 pounds of stone crabs to just 800 pounds!

“This season, there is no season,” Eddie Barnhill said, an owner of Barnhill Fisheries Inc. “The stone crab here in Pine Island are pretty much gone.”

A warehouse, which was once packed with stone crabs. Photo via WINK News.
A warehouse, which was once packed with stone crabs. Photo via WINK News.

Up until this year, this warehouse was packed with stone crabs. For Barnhill, it was a million dollar operation.

“My bread and butter was stone crabbing,” Barnhill said. “That’s where I made a living.”

In the 1970s, Florida Fish and Wildlife found little to worry about when it studied the effects of red tide on stone crabs. But that is not the case this year.

“From what I saw this summer, the water out there was terrible,” Barnhill said. “Things were dying out there by the thousand. Everything was dying pretty much.”

Earlier in 2018, Mote Marine Lab researchers exposed stone crabs to the toxic algae for extended periods and saw that death rates increase. Most disturbing, the red tide also killed the crab’s larvae, which means new crabs are not getting born.

Gregory Tolley, Florida Gulf Coast University marine department chair, said their researchers saw the same thing.

“Off the southwest coast of Florida [there] is very, very low dissolved oxygen levels,” Tolley said. “Most invertebrates, like bottom-dwelling invertebrates that don’t have the ability to swim away from that will succumb to that eventually.”

The lack of stone crabs in southwest Florida waters has led Barnhill to start bagging ice.

“In the meanwhile, we’ve had to do other things,” Barnhill said. “I had to sell equipment and re-invest in new business. We’re opening an ice company now.”

He has launched an ice bagging business: Got Ice.

But he said he would keep fighting for solutions to keep fishing here.

“By no means am I going to run away from it,” Barnhill said. “I’m going to fight to bring the industry back.”

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.