While our site focuses primarily on Florida retirement communities, everybody still has to eat, right?
With the second largest coastline in the U.S., it’s no wonder many folks associate Florida with seafood. Floridians, on average, consume more than twice the amount of seafood than other people in the U.S.
Also, more than 80 different varieties of seafood are caught or farmed in Florida, making the state one of the top five seafood-producing states. On average, more than 84 million pounds of seafood is harvested in Florida, with a dockside value of more than $168 million.
Winter is a prime time for Florida seafood season, with the fishing seasons opening for some of our most savory seafood — stone crab and spiny lobster. By dollar amount, spiny lobster and stone crab are the state’s third and fourth largest seafood harvests.
Florida Spiny Lobster
Spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is a crustacean related to crabs, shrimp and crayfish. Unlike the more familiar Maine lobster, spiny lobsters don’t have claws. The meat is still a delicious. It’s a rich, lean white meat with a firm bite, coarse texture and a sweet, distinctive flavor.
Florida spiny lobster is commercially harvested off the southern tip of Florida and the Florida Keys using special traps set at depths of 6 to 300 feet. In 2008, the Florida Department of Agriculture reports 3,477,928 pounds were harvested generating a dockside value of $22,443,664.
Recreational fishermen can collect spiny lobster by hand while snorkeling or SCUBA diving. Just be sure to check local licensing and regulations.
Florida lobster season runs from August until March, with a special mini-season in July. Fishing seasons and strict harvesting guidelines make Florida spiny lobster an excellent sustainable seafood choice, but be sure to ask where you lobster comes from. Caribbean spiny lobster fisheries in Nicaragua, Honduras and Brazil are over fished and should be avoided.
Fl-Seafood.com (via the Department of Agriculture) has a brochure on what to look for when buying spiny lobster. They’ve also included some recipes, but our favorite way to enjoy fresh, Florida lobster is to grill it in the shell and serve it with just a bit of butter and lemon.
In 2008, 3,074,203 pounds of stone crab were caught in the state, with an estimated value of $18,885,935. Florida stone crab season opens in October and runs through mid-May, with the closed months designed to protect the vitality of the species. The stone crab’s ability to regenerate lost limbs makes it possible to harvest the meaty claws without killing the crab. This makes stone crab an excellent sustainable seafood choice.
If you have never tried stone crab, RUN to the seafood market and look for them. Since only the large claw is harvested, there is no fighting to pick meat out of the legs or body – just a couple strategic whacks with a small mallet (or heavy blunt object – I’ve used pliers) and you’re good. The meat should slide out in large, white chunks.
Stone crab claws are cooked in boiling water immediately after harvest, on the boat or at dockside, to prevent the meat from sticking to the inside of the shell. Claws are sold fresh-cooked or frozen.
Stone crab claws are usually served in the shell. One of the most popular ways to serve them is cold on a bed of ice with a mustard dipping sauce, but they are also commonly eaten hot with drawn butter and lime juice. The firm, sweet meat tastes similar to lobster. It’s extra lean, low in fat, and a good source of protein
Seafood Festivals take place year-round all over the state. They often highlight ultra-local seafood (such as lobster in the Keys) and are a good way to try Florida seafood that you may not have had before – or to try different recipes.
A Stone Crab Jam is happening in Crystal River in November.
For a list of other Florida Seafood Festivals, see http://www.fl-seafood.com/consumers/festivals.htm
Also, I know that several of our Florida retirement communities have weekly fish fry get-togethers. Be sure to ask about these as you are checking out the various communities in Florida.