Did you know that Florida's stone crab fishery makes up 99 percent of all stone crab landings in the United States? It's the perfect time to brush up on your stone crab facts, since stone crab season starts today, Thursday, Oct. 15, and continues through May 15.

These tasty crustaceans can be found in both shallow and deep offshore waters all around Florida, and can be found as far north as North Carolina and as far south as Belize. What's most amazing about stone crabs is their sustainability. Only the claws are harvested from the crab, and the crab is released back into the water, where it will regrow its claws. This method reduces the chances of over-harvesting the species.

Stone crabs can be purchased in the seafood section of most grocery stores or in a seafood market like Siesta Key's Big Water Fish Market, where owner Scott Dolan gives tips on how to prepare and serve the delicious meat.

"The crabs are already cooked when people purchase them, because, if not cooked immediately, the meat will stick to the shell and be difficult to crack," says Dolan.

Many fish markets and grocery stores will crack the claws for you. If you plan to try cracking them yourself at home, Dolan recommends using the back of a spoon and holding the claw in the palm of your hand, or using a wooden mallet. Serve the crabs right away, or if you're going to wait, store them un-cracked in the freezer or over ice in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

"At our restaurant, we serve the claws cold with warm, melted butter or a traditional Florida mustard sauce," says Dolan. Other restaurants serve them warm after dropping them into a pot of boiling water or steamer. The cost can fluctuate depending on claw size, but the price typically averages between $28 and $30 per pound, so are typically served as an appetizer.

To get creative, try adding stone crab meat to a soup or chowder. Or, order the grouper Oscar from Big Water, which is made by searing grouper stuffed with stone crab meat and then topping it with béarnaise sauce and asparagus over rice. Or stick to the basics, and pair the crab with the Joe's Stone Crab mustard sauce. With this delicious, native ingredient, you can't go wrong.

Big Water Fish Market is located 6641 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The seafood shop is also open noon-6 p.m. on Sundays; the restaurant is open noon-8 p.m. on Sundays. For more info, call (941) 554-8101 or visit the market's website.

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