Terry Spencer is pulling out of the Hurricane Hole Marina early today, checking and re-baiting some of the crab traps he's got floating between Shark Key and Boca Grande, a trip he hasn't made in more than a week.
"Because of the weather, I haven't been out," the veteran Key West fisherman said. "I'm usually out five or six days a week."
Stone crab and lobster catches began trickling onto local seafood docks Wednesday, which provided the first real break in the weather for a week. Supplies at some Keys restaurants were running low Tuesday, although a full-scale shortage never materialized.
For fishermen like Spencer, to whom no catch equals no pay, the unscheduled hiatus was unwanted and unwelcome.
"The weather has been tough, they will have crabs today or tomorrow, the crabs will be here," Ramon Rodriguez of the Rusty Anchor Restaurant on Stock Island said, as he awaited the return of fishermen from nearby waters.
He wasn't disappointed. Crabs began arriving Wednesday afternoon.
Winds related to Sandy and also a separate frontal system resulted in heavy waves and winds that reached gale force or close to it, between Thursday and Monday. Some fishermen said the double-whammy weather could be a blessing in disguise, however.
"The weather should cause the lobsters to migrate from the Gulf to the Atlantic," said Peter Bacle ,vice president of the Stock Island Lobster Company. "This time of the year we have weather anyway. We had so much calm for so long, for the lobster and the stone crab we were looking to stir up the waters. It's part of the natural cycle."
Bacle was relieved, nonetheless, when boats started bringing small catches in Wednesday afternoon.
"We haven't had any product come in for the past five days," he said.
Monroe and Collier counties together account for more than half of Florida's stone crab claw catch.
The claws are removed on the boats, and the crabs returned alive to the water where they are still able to function as new claws grow. The market for the claws, says SeaGrant agent Doug Gregory, is strictly local.
"Virtually all the stone crabs caught here are consumed in South Florida," Gregory said. "The local demand takes up everything that it caught."
Some fishermen expect difficulty as they set out for their traps.
"I guarantee you when the wind has blown 40 mph, the traps get tangled up with each other," Spencer said.