Louisiana’s crab industry is in a state of flux, with crabbers adjusting to new seasonal restrictions amid questions of how changes will affect prices later this year.

Crab prices were reasonably healthy on Feb. 20, when a monthlong closure went into effect. In general, prices for big select crabs were about $2.50 at most docks, with smaller crabs fetching between $1.10 and $1.25. Docks and fishermen say they have been feeling a pinch because of low-priced imported crab meat. There are no tariffs for picked crab meat, putting price pressure on domestic picking houses.

Louisiana officials decided late last year to enact temporary and unprecedented closure of the blue crab harvest, shutting things down until March 21. That closure was in effect immediately after a traditional close of two weeks to allow for the retrieval of active traps and to remove derelict traps.

“Something had to be done,” said Carla Tillman, a Terrebonne Parish, La. crabber who also owns a dock. “The crabs needed a little break. We were fishing them hard.”

The monthlong shutdown was decided last year on a recommendation by the Louisiana Blue Crab Task Force, a board made up of industry representatives. Many fishermen, however, were not aware of the decision. For those who showed up at a February task force meeting, the die was already cast.

Some of the majority voters were demonized in the news media and in their communities by some crabbers. But Tillman, a lifelong crabber, expressed concern about the vitriol directed at some in the industry.

“It’s a 12-member board, and it was passed by a majority, not just by two people,” Tillman said.

Some docks offered a premium price right before the February shutdown, in one case as high as $3.75 for the largest select crabs. Some concerns have been expressed that too many crabs will come into the market too quickly now that the season is open again. But the view is not universally held and regarded as speculation at this point.

Some large crab operations, industry sources said, turned down a proposed winter closure because that conflicted with the availability of seasonal guest workers from Central America. With a state finding that crabs were close to being overfished, concern has loomed over how to better control the harvest. The fishery has limited entry. But there is still talk of restricting the number of traps that any individual can have on the water.

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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