From Houma Today:
Recreational crabbers may face restrictions next year to help restore the blue crab population in state waters.
Commercial fishing of female blue crabs across the Louisiana coast will be banned for two months each of the next two years to rebuild the species’ stocks and stabilize prices in an oversaturated market, state officials decided last week.
The Louisiana Crab Task Force is discussing whether to recommend that the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries extend the same restrictions onto recreational crabbers.
The commercial ban will last from March 1 through April 30 in 2018 and 2019, a traditionally slower time for crab landings, officials said. Fishermen may possess female blue crabs as long as the amount is not more than 2 percent of the total catch.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission also voted last week to eliminate a 30-day closure of blue crab harvests for February and March. It started this year and was planned to continue through 2019.
Many crabbers complained markets and restaurants bought crabs from out of state after the season closed Feb 20, and that caused a fluctuation in prices and oversaturated the market once the season reopened.
“Traditionally there are higher prices in the month of February, and the landings are typically less, but a lot of people make a good bit of money based on that high price,” said Peyton Cagle, Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “Also, once the season opened back up, because there were so many crabs hitting the dock at one time, prices dropped really low. That’s what we’re trying to stop from happening by doing this.”
The agency estimated the state’s blue crab population at 14.3 million pounds in 2015. The benchmark for “overfished” conditions is when the population falls below 17.1 million pounds. The population estimates for 2016 and 2017 won’t be available until next year, but officials still maintain the crabs are overfished.
Whitney Curole III, a crabber from Des Allemands, contended that the crabs aren’t overfished, they’re overeaten by fish. He said markets will continue to obtain crabs from out of state over the next two years with the proposed closures.
“I don’t think three to five minutes is going to be enough for me to tell you how bad this closure is,” Curole said. “The closure (this year) killed the market because buyers went to other states to buy crabs.”
In 2015, there were 247 licensed commercial crab fishermen from Lafourche Parish, and 382 from Terrebonne. Commercial landings of blue crab in Louisiana have remained above 40 million pounds per year since 1997 with the exception of 2005, 2010 and 2013, state officials said. In 2015, there were 41.28 million pounds of landings at a dock value of $58.13 million.
Jeff Marx, a Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, said the good thing about crabs is that they’re prolific spawners — one female crab can have 3 million eggs.
“This is a thing that can bounce back, but that’s why we’re instituting these to make sure they do have a chance,” Marx said.