Do Stone Crab Claws Grow Back?


Crab meat is delicious. Everyone enjoys tucking into crab cakes or deep-fried soft-shell crabs and breaking open and picking through the shell to get to the meat is a big part of the fun when it comes to eating king crab and blue crab. However, recent environmental events have caused widespread concern because the king and snow crab fisheries have been closed. Thus, crab lovers everywhere are wondering, is there a sustainable source of that delicious crab meat? Do stone crab claws grow back? Yes, stone crab claws grow back.

The stone crab lives off the coast of Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast. It is fished every year from October to May. Unlike many other populations of seafood, their population seems to be remaining at a stable level. This is due to two reasons: they breed at an unbelievably high rate, and when they are caught for human consumption, they are not killed. Their delicious claw is harvested, and the crab is returned to the water to regrow a new claw. Yes, stone crab claws grow back.

Harvesting Stone Crab Claws

Stone crabs tend to live in shallow water around docks, in beds of seagrass, and on rocky oyster reefs. They are fished by submerging traps in these locations. Crab traps have bait and an opening that allows the crab to enter to eat the bait, but then they cannot get back out. The traps are generally collected every two days or so and the stone crabs are removed. Their claws are measured and any crabs with too-small claws are released. To collect the larger claws, a knife is gently pushed into the 2nd joint, which triggers the crab to discard the claw and it just sort of pops off. Then the crab is released, unharmed. Stone crab claws grow back.

Do Stone Crab Claws Grow Back? Really Grow Back?

Stone crabs evolved to easily lose their claws and then the lost stone crab claws grow back. They have a special “breakpoint” at the base of the claw that is deliberately triggered by the crab to break, freeing the claw and allowing the crab to scuttle away to safety. These crabs are feasted on by sea turtles and octopi, and this mechanism allows them to survive being captured by their predators; the predator eats the discarded claws and the crab escapes alive and unharmed. Stone crab claws grow back.

To confirm that stone crabs do indeed survive human harvesting of their claws, and that the stone crab claws grow back, the Everglades National Park Research Center conducted a study addressing the question of “Do stone crab claws grow back?” They captured a large number of stone crabs and harvested claws from them. They found that around 80% of stone crabs with one claw harvested survived and regrew their claw; taking both claws, however, is not a good way to maintain a sustainable fishery since only 50% of the double-claw harvested crabs survived and regrew their claws. This study did confirm that stone crab claws grow back. Other studies asking the question “Do stone crab claws grow back?” have found similar results, namely, taking one claw is not very harmful to the crabs and the claw just grows back.

How Do Stone Crab Claws Grow Back? The basics of stone crab claw regeneration

Crabs have a hard, outer shell, and in order to grow larger, they have to shed their hard shell and grow a larger shell. This process is called molting. During the molt, which takes around 72 hours in total, the crab’s soft body is exposed, and it is very vulnerable to being eaten by practically anything that comes by. Crabs hide in dark places during their molt. Generally, adult stone crabs molt once a year, the males in the winter and the females in the fall.

If the crab is caught and declawed over the summer, it will molt in the following fall/winter and start to regrow its claw, with the claw becoming fully functional about a year after it is lost. The claw will continue to get larger each year; it will have reached its former size about three years after harvesting. It is illegal to harvest claws from stone crabs that are less than 2 7/8 inches long, so all of the younger crabs and recently harvested crabs that are caught by the fisheries just get released unharmed to keep growing bigger claws. A mature claw is between 4 3/4 and 5 1/2 inches long, with males having larger claws.

Stone Crabs Breed Very Well

Another major reason why stone crabs are a sustainable source of seafood is that they are champion breeders. The crabs start breeding at two years of age, and each summer, an average female stone crab will release four to six batches of eggs. A single batch can contain up to a million eggs. Stone crabs live around 8 years, so that’s a lot of baby crabs. Of course, not all these baby crabs survive to adulthood.

The stone crab population seems to be stable and healthy. Each year, around 2 to 3 million stone crab claws are harvested, and this number has remained steady for many years now.

What Do Stone Crabs Eat?

Stone crabs grow big, powerful claws so they can crush the shells of oysters and other small mollusks and eat the tasty flesh inside. Some studies suggest that the presence of stone crabs improves the oyster population in the Gulf of Mexico because the stone crabs preferentially consume smaller and less healthy oysters, leaving behind a thriving population of large, vigorous oysters to sustain the oyster population and the human oyster harvest.

What Is The Best Way To Eat Stone Crab Claws?

The classic way to eat stone crab claws is to steam them and serve them with melted butter. Another popular way to prepare the claws is to remove most of the shell, leaving just the hard tip behind attached to the meat, and then battering and frying them. This dish is sometimes called “crab fingers” and it is served with a variety of dipping sauces.

Classic sides for a stone crab claw dinner include fried potato wedges, coleslaw, roasted vegetables, grilled corn on the cob, potato salad, crusty sourdough rolls, and a basic green salad.

Pinot noir is the best wine to serve with crab, or if not a fan of wine, a good lager provides a refreshing complement to the sweet crab meat.

Environmental Stamp of Approval

The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates the Florida stone crab fishery “Best Choice” due to its environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.

Do stone crab claws grow back? Yes. Is harvesting stone crab claws bad for the environment? No. If the stone crab is unharmed during claw removal, does that mean crab meat is vegan? Probably not. Enjoy it anyway. Stone crab claw meat is healthy, delicious, and environmentally sustainable.


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