Cracking Louisiana's Crab Fishery Dilemma

LaTer Direct Administrator - Saturday, February 18, 2017
This past summer, in a popular seafood restaurant in Abbeville, LA, the construction sound of wooden mallets pounding the claws of boiled crabs is interrupted at one table as the conversation turns to the other hit taken by the blue-trimmed crustaceans.

In a state with the largest blue crab fishery in the country, it was surprising news to many fishermen who heard, in July 2016, that commercial crab fishing would be closed for 30 days a year over the next three years, beginning this February, because of an overharvest of the fishery.

Fact is, Louisiana’s crab industry has seen a gradual decline in the crab population, arguably since 2000, with the most concerning levels reached last year. According to the 2016 Blue Crab Stock Assessment, by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the blue crab population was estimated at 14.3 million pounds in 2015. The benchmark for “overfished” conditions is when the population falls below 17.1 million pounds.

LDWF Program Manager for Marine Fisheries Jeff Marx says that with this kind of decrease in blue crab numbers, the Department had to take action. The 30-day closure of trap fishery will begin the third Monday in February, historically a down time in the season, so the interruption in fishing is minimal. Marine experts say that time will give mature female crabs time to spawn and immature female crabs time to grow.

“You’ll see a better product,” says Marx. “In late February, early March, there’s what is called a ‘skinny’ crab and with the closure, those crabs will have a chance to grow and get a better quality.”

Some fishermen and crab processors aren’t so sure; though they will tell you that 2016 has been a slow crab season. Frank Randol, crab processor and owner of Randol’s Restaurant in Lafayette, LA, said his business was down in the fall of 2016, noting the percentage of yielded jumbo lump crab meat was at 11 percent, when it’s usually at 15 percent.

Randol, who’s been a crab processor since 1971, says he thinks there’s more to sustainability than a temporary closure. “We need to manage the resource; the closures aren’t as important as the management. There’s an imbalance of fisheries, where, for instance, red drum and other predator fish have been feasting on crabs for years. Harvesting the fish that are eating the crabs is an important step in saving the crab population.”

On the flip side, Trudy Luke, co-owner of Luke’s Seafood in Dulac, LA and member of a long-running crab fishing family, agrees that a proactive approach to the problem must be taken. Luke is a member of the Blue Crab Task Force along with other representatives from the crab industry who worry that if action is not taken now to sustain the population, then harsher restrictions might be imposed that would be even worse for fishermen, possibly jeopardizing the state’s year-round crab season.

No doubt, a low crab population has had an additional economic impact on fishermen, who are having to fish with more traps, putting out an average of 500-600 as compared to 300 traps a few years ago.

Because the LDWF has kept a watchful eye on the state’s blue crab population for years, the Department earned a seal of sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2012, the first and only crab fishery in the world to earn this designation. While the “seal of sustainability” opened doors to large retailers like Whole Foods and other national chains, it also required some environmental stipulations.

The MSC mandates that benchmarks be met for five years in monitoring the crab fishery population, particularly how to maintain or increase crab production without hurting the ecosystem and what to do if an overharvest is reached.

Bottom line: There no easy solutions to addressing the issue of overfishing, especially since one or more of the root causes is outside human control.

Associate Professor of Fisheries for LSU Ag Center and Fisheries Specialist for Sea Grant Julie Lively says the decrease in the crab fishery is not isolated to Louisiana; the crab population is down from the east coast to Texas, a phenomena governed much by nature. “Crab biology is driven by temperature and salinity; if salinity is low, predator fish don’t come in as close. Also, more wet years will help populate crabs,” she says.

Adding to that, Marx says that lack of severe freezes keeps predator fish thriving. Tropical storms blow in crabs from offshore that are normally unavailable. “We can’t control nature, but we can control fisheries.”

“Regardless of the underlying cause, we have reached the harvest limit and the state is managing the fishery so it can remain sustainable in the future for the fishermen of Louisiana,” says Lively.

According to Marx, there has never been a statewide seasonal crab closure, only small regional and area closures to pick up abandoned crab traps. Each year since 2004, LDWF has removed and disposed of traps snagged by boat motors or disengaged in storms- over 25,000 to date. The removal of these crab traps is especially important to crab harvesting efforts.

Crab trap pickups will continue for 16 days on the eastern and western portion of the state during the 30-day crab closure.

Experts remain optimistic that this management solution will see results. Unlike other areas of the country, it takes a blue point crab just over one year to reach maturity- as compared to two years in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

“Hopefully, it’ll build the population to the point where fishermen won’t have to put out as many traps,” says Marx.

Lively says it might not take long for populations to rebound. Amazingly, a female crab can lay as many as 750,000 to eight million eggs in her lifetime! Hearing that, one veteran crabber attending an educational workshop last fall in Bourg, LA said with a smirk, “Well then, close the bedroom door and let the crabs do their thing.”

New Blue Crab Fishing Regulations in Effect

LaTer Direct Administrator - Friday, February 10, 2017

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reminds fishermen of three new blue crab fishing regulations to take effect this year. Two changes were implemented January 1 and will stay in effect through 2019.  An additional regulation regarding escape rings will go into effect on November 15, 2017.
 
A summary of regulation changes is as follows:
 
Regulation changes effective January 1, 2017, and to extend through 2019
 

  1. Ban on the commercial harvest of immature female blue crabs

There is an exception for immature female blue crabs held for processing as softshell crabs or being sold to a processor for the making of softshell crabs. Additionally, legally licensed commercial crab fishermen may have an incidental take of immature female crabs not to exceed two percent of the total number of crabs in possession. Crabs in a work box, used to sort or cull undersized and/or immature female crabs, are not subject to the restriction while held aboard an active fishing vessel.
 
An immature female crab, also known as a “maiden” or “V-bottom” crab, can be identified as having a triangular shaped apron on her abdomen.  A mature female crab can be identified as having a dome shaped apron on her abdomen.
 

  1. Seasonal closure of the commercial fishery and the use of crab traps

The commercial harvest of blue crabs and the use of all crab traps will be prohibited for a 30-day period beginning the third Monday in February. During this period, all crab traps must be removed from all state waters including the three-mile territorial seas. All remaining crab traps found during the closure will be presumed as actively fishing and considered illegal. During this closure period, LDWF will conduct derelict crab trap cleanups throughout the Louisiana coast. 
 
Regulation change effective November 15, 2017
 

  1. Changes to the number and size of escape rings required on crab traps

A minimum of three escape rings should be placed on the vertical, outside walls flush with the trap floor or baffle with at least two rings located in the upper chamber of each trap. The minimum size of rings should be 2 and 3/8 inches inside diameter. Any crab trap constructed of wire mesh 2 and 5/16 inches square or greater is exempt from escape ring requirements. 

LA Shrimp Soon to be Plentiful, Good Choice for Health

LaTer Direct Administrator - Monday, May 16, 2016
he spring shrimp season is set to open May 23, which means America’s favorite seafood will soon be plentiful and easy to add to our weekly menu.  Local shrimpers are hopeful large volumes of Gulf shrimp caught in Marshrimp boatch will translate to a great brown shrimp season in May and June.

“Consumers should know that fresh, wild caught Louisiana shrimp will soon be readily available,” said Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter/Louisiana Sea Grant extension agent, and director of the Louisiana Direct Seafood program.  “Lucky for us, more and more evidence points to the importance of seafood in a healthy diet.”

According to seafoodhealthfacts.org, health experts recommend eating a variety of seafood at least twice a week.  Nutritional benefits of seafood include:

•    A good source of high quality protein, that is easier to digest
•    Fewer calories compared to other protein dense foods.
•    Low levels of total and saturated fat, with most kinds of fish and shellfish containing less than 5 percent total fat.
•    A main source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) and docsahexaenoic acid (DHA)

These important fatty acids provide significant health benefits, like helping to build muscles and tissue and reducing the risk of heart disease in adults.  Just one 3 ounce serving of shrimp contains over 293 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acid.

Though fresh, wild caught Louisiana shrimp is easy to find, and is a good choice for your health, it is important to remember that not all seafood is created equal.  Domestic shrimp, and other seafood, is a better—and often safer—choice than some imports.  

Reports of shrimp refused entry into the U.S., due to antibiotics found in samples, as well as investigations into slave labor used in shrimp processing plants overseas, have some consumers concerned.

 “Most people don’t realize that 94 percent of our shrimp is imported, mainly from countries such as India, Thailand and Indonesia,” said Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter/Louisiana Sea Grant extension agent, and director of the Louisiana Direct Seafood program.  “But there is no need to abandon your love of shrimp, as you can take steps to make sure you know where your seafood comes from.  Carefully reading labels, especially the back of the product, for country of origin is one way.  Buying direct from fishermen, or a trusted local retailer, is another.”

LouisianaDirectSeafood.com, an initiative administered by Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter, provides an online resource for consumers to connect with fishermen in four main coastal areas—CameronDelcambreLafourche-Terrebonne, and Southshore/New Orleans.   Each area has it’s own web site, where fishermen can post their most recent catch for sale, and how to contact them directly.  Facebook pages and e-newsletters for each region also serve to keep consumers in the know.

“There is a reason farm-to-table has become so popular,” said Hymel.  “People are looking to make a connection with their food, and with local producers.  Seafood fresh off the boat has nutritional benefits, as well as superior taste and texture.

“Though we’re talking up the opening of shrimp season, summer is a great time for all manner of fresh seafood, as crabs get fatter and many species of fish are running like red snapper, tuna, wahoo and king mackerel.  Even oysters are available and safe to eat thanks to time and temperature safety rules; plus a new method of off bottom oyster farming produces a delicious summer oyster.  How fortunate we are to have all this bounty at our fingertips.”

Catch Crabs, Earn Cash Reward

LaTer Direct Administrator - Tuesday, May 10, 2016
From NOLA.com

April 20, 2016

By Todd Masson

Crabbing in Louisiana's waters will not only provide you and your friends with a tasty meal, it could also put a little cash in your wallet. Nicholls State University is on a quest to learn more about the health and habits of the state's blue-crab population, and will be rewarding recreational and commercial crabbers who help in that endeavor.

Over the next two years, researchers at the school will tag and release as many as 15,000 female blue crabs in Louisiana waters and 30,000 Gulf-wide. The tags will appear on the backs of the crustaceans, and will be held in place by a wire that stretches from point to point.

Nicholls University tagged crabCrabbers who catch the tagged crabs and report the requested information will receive a check for $5 or $50, as well as information about where and when the crab was tagged.

Zachary Darnell, assistant professor at Nicholls' Department of Biological Sciences, said the project is the largest to his knowledge ever conducted in Louisiana waters.

"Blue crabs support a tremendously valuable fishery in Louisiana, but information on their movements and migration is lacking," he said. "We're mostly interested in how female crabs are moving through the estuaries and coastal waters of Louisiana -- when they're migrating, why they're migrating.

"We know that after the females mature and mate, they tend to stick in one area to feed and build up their energy stores, and then once they get ready to produce an egg mass, they start migrating down toward the coast, toward higher-salinity water, where they spawn. The eggs and larvae need that higher salinity."

Darnell said crabs migrate not by crawling or swimming, but by rising up in the water column and riding the falling tides. When the water turns around and begins to rise, the crabs simply move to the bottom and hold on until the tide starts to fall again.

"That saves them a lot of energy," he said.

In Louisiana, that migration seems to be a protracted affair, Darnell said.

"We know that up in the Chesapeake Bay, the vast majority of all females tend to migrate in the fall, fairly tightly clustered around the same time, but down here, it's probably much more spread out," he said.

10 fascinating blue crab facts

Here are some things you may not know about Louisiana's favorite crustacean.

The tags, Darnell said, should stay on the crabs throughout their lives.

"A lot of people ask, 'What about when they molt? Won't you lose the tags?' But once the females reach maturity, they really don't molt again after that," he said.

Researchers began tagging a couple of weeks ago, and to date, have tagged about 400 crabs, Darnell said. That number will climb rapidly throughout the spring and summer, he said.

**************

Todd Masson can be reached at tmasson@nola.com or 504.232.3054. 

Oyster Industry Workshop in Houma

LaTer Direct Administrator - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A seasonal update for oyster boat captains and deck hands, brought to you be Louisiana Fisheries Forward; lunch provided.Louisiana Fisheries Forward logo

December 5, 2014
9:30 am – 11:30 am

JOIN US AT THE WORKSHOP
Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife MuseumLouisiana Sea Grant logo
7910 W. Park Avenue • Houma, LA 70364

AND DOCKSIDE
Houma Downtown Marina
Bayou Terrebonne & Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

oysters
WORKSHOP TOPICS INCLUDE:
  • Utilize GPS technology to locate oyster leases
  • Trip tickets
  • Weights & measures, defining a sack
  • Oyster cooler log time & temperature
  • Best management practices for oyster handling & waste disposal
  • Fisheries enforcement, common infractions

  • HANDS-ON DEMONSTRATIONS INCLUDE:
  • Raised floor air flow system
  • Calibrated basket
  • Best practices in separating oyster clusters

  • To register or for more information, contact:
    Julie Falgout (985) 856-2477  •  jfalgo@lsu.edu
    Alan Matherne (985) 677-0368  •  amatherne@lsu.edu

    John Supan, PhD (985) 264-3239  •  jsupan@lsu.edu


    Lunch follows dockside event, sponsored by  



    Dates Set for Louisiana Shrimp and Oyster Seasons

    LaTer Direct Administrator - Thursday, August 14, 2014
    OystersThe Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has set the dates for Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster seasons. The dates were determined after input from LDWF biologists and the public.

    The Louisiana shrimp season will open one-half hour before sunrise on Monday, August 18 for inside waters from the western shore of the Atchafalaya River to the Louisiana border with Texas. State inside waters east of the Atchafalaya River will open for shrimping Monday, August 18 at 6 p.m.

    Some state waters are still closed, however, as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More information including maps showing the openings and closings can be found here.

    Oyster season will begin one-half hour before sunrise on Wednesday, September 3, in Little Lake, Barataria Bay, Deep Lake, Lake Tambour, and Vermilion/East and West Cote Blanche/Atchafalaya Bay Public Oyster Seed Grounds. Between September 3 and October 12, harvesting oysters for market sales is NOT allowed on any public oyster area and only seed oysters for bedding purposes may be harvested.

    On Monday, October 20, all other public oyster seed grounds Lake Borgne, Bay Junop, Lake Mechant, the Lake Machias/Fortuna sacking-only area, the Bay Long sacking-only area, and a sacking-only area in Mississippi Sound will be open for harvesting one-half hour before sunrise. The west cove portion of the Calcasieu Lake Public Oyster Area will open one-half hour before sunrise on Monday, October 27.

    There are a number of provisions as well as some closures regarding oyster season. For the full release from LDWF, click here.

    Shrimp Season Has Closed in Remainder of State Inside Waters Except for Breton and Chandeleur Sounds

    LaTer Direct Administrator - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    The 2014 spring inshore shrimp season closed on Monday, July 21, in the remainder of state inside waters except for the open waters of Breton and Chandeleur Sounds and a portion of Mississippi Sound.

    This action closes shrimping in inside waters within the Mermentau, Calcasieu and Sabine Rivers Basins extending from the western shore of Freshwater Bayou Canal westward to the Louisiana/Texas state line and in Lake Borgne located in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

    Effective with this closure all state inside waters will be closed to shrimping except for the open waters of Breton and Chandeleur Sounds as described by the double–rig line in R.S. 56:495.1(A)2. Shrimping will also be allowed in that portion of Mississippi Sound as follows:

    that portion of Mississippi Sound beginning at a point on the Louisiana-Mississippi Lateral Boundary at 30 degrees 09 minutes 39.6 seconds north latitude and -89 degrees 30 minutes 00.0 seconds west longitude due south to a point at 30 degrees 05 minutes 00.0 seconds north latitude and -89 degrees 30 minutes 00.0 seconds west longitude; thence southeasterly to a point on the western shore of Three-Mile Pass at 30 degrees 03 minutes 00.0 seconds north latitude and -89 degrees 22 minutes 23.0 seconds west longitude; thence northeasterly to a point on Isle Au Pitre at 30 degrees 09 minutes 20.5 seconds north latitude and -89 degrees 11 minutes 15.5 seconds west longitude, which is a point on the double–rig line. All state outside waters seaward of the Inside/Outside shrimp line will remain open to shrimp harvesting until further notice, with the exception of those areas outlined in the map linked below. 

    For a larger map that details today’s actions and all areas currently open and closed to harvesting shrimp click here.

    Data collected in recent weeks by LDWF biologists indicate increased quantity, distribution and percentage of small, juvenile white shrimp within these waters. The decision to close these waters was made to protect these developing shrimp and provide opportunity for growth to larger and more marketable sizes.

    The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will meet August 7 to consider opening dates for the fall inshore shrimp season.

    LDWF Announces Opening of Spring Shrimp Season

    LaTer Direct Administrator - Thursday, May 01, 2014

    The dates for the 2014 Louisiana spring shrimp season were announced at today’s meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and
    Fisheries Commission. The spring shrimp season was set based on information provided by Louisiana Department of
    Wildlife and Fisheries biologists and on public comments.

    The opening dates for the 2014 Louisiana shrimp season are as follows:

    1. That portion of state inside waters from the eastern shore of South Pass of the Mississippi River westward
    to the western shore of Freshwater Bayou Canal, and that portion of state outside waters extending 3
    nautical miles seaward from the shoreline from the Atchafalaya River Ship Channel at Eugene Island as
    delineated by the Channel red buoy line westward to the to the western shore of Freshwater Bayou Canal
    at -92 degrees 18 minutes 33 seconds west longitude to open at 6 a.m. May 26

    2. That portion of state inside waters from the Mississippi/Louisiana state line westward to the eastern shore
    of South Pass of the Mississippi River to open at 6 a.m. June 2. However, the open waters of Breton and
    Chandeleur Sounds as described by the double-rig line are currently open to shrimping.

    3. That portion of state inside waters from the western shore of Freshwater Bayou Canal westward to the
    Louisiana/Texas state line to open at 6 a.m. June 2.

    In addition to the open waters of Breton and Chandeleur Sounds, all state outside waters are currently open
    to shrimping except for outside waters extending 3 nautical miles seaward from the shoreline from the
    Atchafalaya River Ship Channel at Eugene Island westward to the to the western shore of Freshwater Bayou
    Canal.

    The Commission granted authority to the Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to delay or
    advance these opening dates if biological and technical data indicate the need to do so, and; to close any
    portion of Louisiana's inside waters to protect small juvenile white shrimp if biological and technical data
    indicate the need to do so, or enforcement problems develop. The Secretary is further granted the authority
    to open any area, or re-open any previously closed area, and to open and close special shrimp seasons in any
    portion of state waters.

    For more information, click here.

    Louisiana Seafood Academy and Dock Day 2014

    LaTer Direct Administrator - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Louisiana Direct Seafood Academy and Dock Day 2014 will be held in Delcambre, LA at the Shrimp Festival Building (411 Main Street, Delcambre, LA 70528) on Tuesday, March 25 and Wednesday, March 26. The meeting is free and open to all commercial fishermen including shrimpers, crabbers, oystermen and finfishermen, processors, and anyone else interested in the commercial fishing industry.

    Sponsored by Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter, the event will feature presentations and demonstrations by experts from Louisiana Sea Grant, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, LSU and the U.S. Coast Guard. Louisiana Direct Seafood Academy and Dock Day is conducted to provide education and information to commercial fisherman about the shrimp and crab industry.

    Topics to be covered on each day include: industry status and updates, research and development, compensation funds, sustainability and certification, gear technology, and safety regulation.

    The first meeting on March 25th will feature shrimp specific topics while the second meeting on March, 26th will highlight important crab information.

    The Dock Day for each day will feature several demonstrations:

    • Boat Gear Technology and Equipment
    • US Coast Guard Safety Demonstration
    • Tour of Local Shrimp Processing Facility (Day 1 Only)
    • Crab Shedding Demonstration (Day 2 Only)
    • Vacuum Packaging Demonstration following Recommended BMP
    • Free Local Hospital Health Screening (12:00pm – 3:00pm)

    Coffee and lunch will be provided to all participants. Also, random door prizes will be drawn amongst those who can show their Louisiana commercial fishing license.

    For more information about the program, contact Thu Bui at the LSU AgCenter at tbui@agcenter.lsu.edu or (337)828-4100 ext. 300.

    Click here to register now!

    Louisiana Saltwater Series

    LaTer Direct Administrator - Thursday, February 27, 2014
    The Louisiana Saltwater Series Redfish Series begins on March 8 at Boudreaux's Marina in Cocodrie, Louisiana. The series consists of seven competitive "catch and release" redfish tournaments. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries uses data collected from the tournament to study the life and habitat of sport fish to enhance Louisiana's fisheries resources. Click here to see the locations of fish that have been tagged at past tournaments. 

    2014 Schedule:
    March 8 – Cocodrie, Boudreaux’s Marina;
    April 5 – Lake Charles, Calcasieu Point Landing;
    May 3 – Slidell, The Dock/Dockside Bait & Tackle;
    June 28 – Delacroix, Sweetwater Marina;
    July 19 – Port Fourchon, Port Fourchon Marina;
    August 23 – Empire, The Delta Marina; and
    September 13, – Seaway Marina, Lafitte

    Championship – October 17 and 18 Venice, Venice Marina

    For online registration and more info, check out: http://www.lasaltwaterseries.com/

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    511 Roussell Street, Houma, LA, 70360
    Email: admin@laterdirectseafood.com 
    985-873-6495
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