We have to say farewell this week to two very important seasonal impacts on our life here on the beautiful Sun Coast. Both of these phenomena share the same seasonal period which is approximately the middle of October until the middle of May.
First of all, the last of the snowbirds are departing for the north and that leaves a big dent in the population, the diversity, and the economy of Sarasota County. Both the state of Florida and this county hit all-time high marks for tourism this season. Of course, the severe winter was a factor but so were very aggressive “Visit Florida” and “Visit Sarasota County” campaigns. The Chicago region was a prime target and “Visit Sarasota County” not only promoted this area on television and newspapers, but even decorated the interiors of elevated train cars with the wonders of this county.
The theory is that if you follow a gloom-and-doom sub-zero weather forecast with a Sarasota ad, the seed is planted and the bucks will flow. The proof of this theorem is the fact that 276,000 visitors spent nearly $322 million while here. Wow!
Now, in addition to the seasonal influx of the snowbirds, I read where the financial education website Credit/Donkey.com has rated Sarasota as the number one city in the nation for retirees. Criteria for the selection included community population, multi-unit housing, health care availability, cultural attractions, and population growth. The study goes on to say, “Population growth is also high, so retirees looking to settle down in this coastal resort town better get there quickly.” Our decision to pull up our Texas stakes and move here was strictly family-related but, from the way prices are escalating, it was none too soon.
We will miss the snowbirds but it will be nice to get the roads, stores, and restaurants back. We are about the only permanent folks on our street and, as a result, we will be checking on a couple of our neighbors’ houses over the next five months. Meanwhile, they will be enjoying the summer in Cape Cod and South Lyme, Connecticut.
Secondly, we say goodbye to the Florida Stone Crab season which ended on May 15. On the last day of the season, our son popped in with a grocery sack full of the claws - which is the only part that is harvested and eaten. These claws are really hard and a stone crab can crack an oyster shell with them. They are already cooked when you get them so all you have to do is clean them.
Cleaning requires laying out newspapers and a dish towel and then whacking them with a hammer to break into the shell. I took on the whole bag at once and, by the time I got through, I had shell pieces everywhere on the kitchen counter, about a quart of picked and cleaned lump crab meat, and a bad back from bending over the counter so long. I double wrapped the shell carcasses in newspaper, double wrapped that package in plastic bags, put that package in the bottom of our big trash container, and now, three days later, our entire garage smells like an old tuna can.
The Good Wife and I both had large crab salads on Friday night and I made a Cajun special on Saturday night. It was garlic-seared jumbo shrimp with andouille sausage served on creamy grits with a crab remoulade sauce on the side. It was right good except for the andouille sausage which I have grown to dislike. I know that makes my “Ragin’ Cajun” buddy, Kenny Bourgeois, cringe from such heresy, but he’ll just have to live with it.
This was a bad year for the stone crab fishermen - they harvested about a million pounds less of the claws than last year. As a result prices escalated from $11 per pound for medium claws and $19 for large to $16 and $22 per pound, respectively. Even with this escalation, crabbing was often a losing proposition.
They tell me one of the larger boats might have 1,000 traps in the water and they might pull 500 on each trip out. Costs for these trips are about $400 for bait and $200 for fuel plus Labor -- so you can see that, if they come back with only 20 pounds of claws, they are losing money.
When the fishermen gather up for some beers and “dock talk,” they discuss the cause of the bad season. One theory is the weather and water has been too clear and that makes the crabs burrow down in the sand to avoid predators. Another is that the BP oil spill in the Gulf waters off the Florida Panhandle drove many of the crab’s natural predators down into this part of the Gulf. These natural predators include grouper, sea turtles, and octopuses (or is it octopi?). They tell me an octopus can even reach into a trap to break up a crab with its tentacles -- and it doesn’t even have a hammer! As the good old boys on the dock say, “We’ll do better next year.”
I still collect adages, sayings, and pearls of wisdom from many sources and I am going to start imparting a couple on you at the end of each rant. The genre will be called “Grouch’s Guano,” and goes like this:
A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments. Inside every older person (yours truly) is a younger person wondering, “What the hell happened?”
Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears on Tuesdays.