Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, December 29, 2012
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Fishermen struggling with rough season
Some are giving up, others are willing to stick it out

Commercial trap fishermen were hoping a banner stone crab season would make up for a lousy spiny lobster season, but it's turning out to be equally dismal.

Rotten, horrible and bad are all words Keys Fisheries fish house and restaurant owner Gary Graves used to describe stone crab and spiny lobster season this year.

"Right after the first pull, things just got bad," Graves said. "It's just bleak."

But, he added: "Things could change."

Graves could not pinpoint why the lobster and stone crab fishing has been poor, but cited many possibilities, including global warming, water temperature and pollution.

He doubted the drop in both stone crab and spiny lobster was tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"It could just be a cycle," Graves said. "The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that we can't find them. I hope they will come back ... I just hope next year is better."

The lackluster stone crab and lobster season has forced Graves to lay off nearly 20 people who would have sorted, graded and packed seafood at his fish house, he said. Graves estimated he lost "millions of dollars" from the slumping seasons and the Keys as a whole is losing "tens of millions of dollars."

"I guarantee you this will have a ripple effect through our entire community," Graves said.

Lower Keys commercial fisherman Billy Niles, who has been fishing for nearly 60 years, called this year the worst he has faced. Many commercial fishermen have already brought in their traps, despite there being three months left in the season.

"It's terrible," Niles said. "It's horrible ... I have never seen it this bad. It's bad all the way from the (Dry) Tortugas to Miami ... There are captains who can't make enough to pay their crew and fuel bills."

Stock Island Lobster Co. owner Peter Bacle is concerned about the stone crab season, but not willing to give up yet.

He agreed the downturn could be a cycle.

Bacle did concede that the first four months of a season are generally the best, when most fishermen make their money.

"It's not over," Bacle said. "We have had some late runs in the past."

Stone crab season ends May 15.

tohara@keysnews.com

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