Stone crab (Menippe mercenaria) is a type of crab found in the Atlantic waters along the Southern coast of the United States, ranging from South Carolina to Florida. Florida is the state which harvests the most stone crab yearly, and it is viewed as a uniquely Florida delicacy. Out of season, stone crab can be difficult to obtain because it is highly prized for its rich flavor as well as the conservation friendly harvesting practices used to collect the delicious meat.
In nature, a stone crab resembles a rock, a camouflaging technique. Stone crabs are relatively small, with a shell that measures approximately 3 ½ inches (9 centimeters) across, and two disproportionately large claws. The stone crab has a brownish color on top, with flecks of other color below, and the large claws have distinctive black tips. Like other crabs, stone crabs prefer sheltered areas to live such as protective jetties, bays, and reefs, and adult stone crabs will dig a small burrow to further hide themselves from predators.
Stone crab can be eaten like other species such as Dungeness. The meat is delicious steamed and served hot or cold with a buttery sauce or mustard. Stone crab can also be used in crab cakes, pasta dishes, cioppino, and other seafood dishes. The rich flesh is very filling: most people are more than content with a serving of three claws, which yield approximately one pound (453 grams) of meat. Stone crab is usually found cooked and frozen, and even when fresh, the meat will still be cooked to prevent it from sticking to the shell while chilled for sale.
Stone crab harvested in the United States is viewed as a very ecologically sound seafood choice, because fishermen do not actually harvest the whole stone crab. Stone crabs are able to drop and regrow their claws up to four times over a lifetime. Fishermen take advantage of this unique trait to harvest a single claw per crab and then release it back into the wild. The crab is able to defend itself and harvest food with the remaining claw while the replacement grows in, a process which takes approximately one year. There are size minimums in place by law, and fishermen are also not permitted to take claws from females with eggs.
Because of this conservation-minded harvesting technique, many marine welfare organizations encourage consumers to eat stone crab harvested in the United States. Other nations, such as Mexico, do not have such stringent rules about harvest in place. The amount of time and labor that goes into harvest is reflected in the price, but most consumers agree that it is worth it for the flavor. Those who do not agree can pursue stone crab themselves, as long as they fish within season and follow state laws about harvesting limits.