This post about Crab Island in 2023 is the fourth article in our annual series, offering a continuation of the yearly updates on the changing Crab Island rules and regulations. Check these links for the complete backstory on Crab Island in 2020 , 2021, and 2022.
If you’ve been following the news from Okaloosa County and the National Parks Service, which share jurisdiction over Crab Island, you know that Crab Island vendors have been anticipating being shut down completely for several years now, as the Parks Service had stated during an informational planning meeting that concessions were not considered to be a “necessary or appropriate use of the park” and that there would be no more vending allowed under their new Commercial Services Strategy. This didn’t happen, though, due to delays from Covid-19 and subsequent staffing shortages within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Instead, vendors were given more time to operate while the Parks Service finalized their Commercial Services Strategy for the sandbar. 2023 appears to be more of the same, but the Parks Service continues to be clear that things will be changing in the future.
Richard Devenney of the Gulf Islands National Seashore division of the National Parks Service stated in an email to vendors in December 2022, “the NPS is in the middle of a large planning process for commercial activity in the Crab Island area. Because of this process, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the availability of commercial permits at Crab Island in the future. It is highly likely that commercial activity will continue this year (2023) similar to how it has in the past, but primarily because of the planning process, things will change in the future.”
The takeaway here is that the current Crab Island restrictions will continue into 2023, but, once again, vendors should be prepared for changes on the horizon, which could include further limitations on vending at Crab Island, or even a complete shutdown of commercial activity. Here is a recap of the the current restrictions:
Current Crab Island Regulations
- No overnight anchoring
- Sale or distribution of alcohol is prohibited (Boaters can still BYOB)
- Propeller cages on vendor vessels under 21′ to protect sea grass beds
- Restroom required on commercial passenger vessels (not rental boats) over 21′
- Shuttle services must remain with their customers at Crab Island. (No dropping people off.)
- 3% of gross income to National Parks Service
- $400+ per vessel/structure (based on size) per month to Okaloosa County
New Changes for 2023
While that news sounds pretty good on the surface for vendors and visitors, there appears to be a caveat.
Mr. Devenney continued, saying, “Please note that we are completing a new commercial permit application, with the assistance of the US Public Health Service, that will have additional information required for all food and beverage operations. Once this is complete, it will be sent out to all food/beverage operations for completion.”
This is new, and the floating restaurants and mobile food vendors should take notice. It sounds like food vendors will have the additional scrutiny of yet another government agency and even more hoops to jump through to get started in 2023. How this plays out will be interesting, and may affect the number of returning vendors, or may delay the opening of food vendors at Crab Island.
How to Plan Ahead
If you’re planning to visit Crab Island this Spring, know that food options may be limited, at least in the beginning while vendors learn to navigate these new changes. If you’re renting a boat or taking an excursion, plan to pack a cooler, or check out your options for boat-accessible dining/to-go food and drinks.