The “Blessing of the Fleet” is a tradition that began centuries ago in Mediterranean fishing communities and is meant to ensure a safe and bountiful season.
The annual Blessing of the Stone Crab Fleet is planned for Saturday, September 28 at the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City. The boats tie up along the shore and rose petals are scattered on their decks by several of the fishermen’s daughters. Individual blessings are then bestowed on each vessel by local clergy.
As always, it promises to be a fun day for all the family. The event includes an assortment of arts and crafts booths, bake sales, live music, face-painting, a kids frog-jumping contest, raffles, a stone crab art contest for kids, and the always-hotly-contested coconut guava cake contest!
Stone crabs are a large source of income for the small city located near Florida’s southern tip. In an average year, crabbers will bring 375,000 pounds of stone crab claws through Everglades City canneries. Statewide, 2-3 million pounds of claws are taken by some 1,200 licensed commercial stone crabbers.
Florida’s stone crab season begins on October 15 and runs through May 15. The crabs are captured in baited traps. Commercial crabbers may put out long lines of up to 100 traps, each trap attached to a buoy, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife regulations. Recreational crabbers may set out a maximum of five traps as long as they are in possession of a Florida saltwater fishing license.
Once caught, only the larger immovable part of the claw called the propodus may be removed. A legal size claw must be two and three-quarter inches or greater. The crab is then returned to the water to regenerate its claw, which takes about 18 months. Egg-bearing females may not be declawed.