Gulf of Mexico crabbers are navigating into uncertain waters as the spring of 2021 approaches, in a year that began with a dearth of product.

“There’s nothing since Christmas,” said long-time crab dock owner Trudy Luke of Houma, La., whose family members also regularly harvest blue crabs. “The demand is so high that docks are throwing money out there. I’ve got a fisherman here who usually brings in 100 55-pound pans. Today he brought in 10.”

Louisiana accounts for more than 30 percent of all blue crab landings in the United States, and a lion’s share of Gulf of Mexico landings.

High prices at the dock don’t have a positive effect on fishermen when catches are small, particularly with rising fuel prices.

Currently, Louisiana crab prices for the largest specimens in March were as high as $4.25 per pound, industry participants said. Number 2 crabs were fetching $2.25 per pound, and very small males about $1.

“Something happened with the weather, the wind and the cold, so in eastern Louisiana crabbers are working the offshore edge right now, but it’s mostly female crabs,” said Pete Gerica, chairman of the Louisiana Crab Task Force. “So right now, the prices are going out of the box. This has been a trend now for the past three years, and the demand is for more than the amount of product being produced.”

One thing crabbers are certain of is that low numbers coming into the spring are not the result of crab depletion that occurred over the past decade. A three-year program of halting crab harvesting during specified months in Louisiana — a recommendation from crabbers and processors — has had positive population effect. This is one reason why crabbers are optimistic that as waters warm the supply will be greater.

Louisiana crabbers say that since the creatures migrate east to west, they’ll get good indications of a comeback when Mississippi, Alabama and Florida show increases.

“We’re starting to hear a little bit,” Trudy Luke said. “It will be coming; we’re hoping in just another couple of weeks.”

John DeSantis is the senior staff writer at The Times, a newspaper in Houma, La. and regularly contributes to National Fisherman.

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