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Crabbers worry about supply

Empty tables at Pontchartrain Blue Crab Processors in Slidell Empty tables at Pontchartrain Blue Crab Processors in Slidell

If you've gone to the seafood store lately to look for crabs, there's a good chance you struck out.

The crab picking tables are normally jammed with dozens of pickers this time of year, but not now. One processor has laid off 80 percent of his staff because the crabs just aren't there.  

"Normally we have 90 employees; we got 12 right now," says Jay Moore with Pontchartrain Blue Crab Processors.

It's an eerie site; the docks are empty, too. "Four years ago we would have 40 boats waiting to unload.  Now, nothing," says Moore.

One local seafood dealer told FOX 8 he hasn't had any fresh crabs to sell in nearly a month, and the guys making their living on them are hurting.

"Usually March is a good month, but there was nothing in March. There's nothing now," said crabber Greg Gottchalk.

Hundreds of crab traps sit on the dock, instead of in the water. And everyone involved in this $300 million-a-year industry wonders why.

"Water temperature in the 70's, we should be catching something.  It's terrible," said Gottchalk.

The boiler would normally be full of crabs this time of day. But it's completely empty and no one knows when it will fill again.

Some blame freshwater diversions and the closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

Greg Gottchalk said, "I think it was the hurricane last year, all the bad water it moved in."

Others blame a cool spring and the BP oil disaster.

UNO fish biologist Marty O'Connell said, "That year, class took it on the chin as eggs and larvae, and now they're not there."  He warns the impact will continue.

Whatever the cause, major dips in seafood are not unheard of.  Seafood production also dropped significantly during the drought years of 2001 and 2002, and the fishery rebounded.

While many of us won't be enjoying the crabs we love, others fear for their livelihood.

"We got one person cleaning up, it's scary," said Moore.

the crabs may be way down, but the bills, keep coming in.

Dr. O'Connell says this area is not alone -- similar reports of empty crab traps are popping up across the Gulf Coast.

BP says it has paid out $82 million to Gulf seafood dealers since the 2010 spill, and it continues to work with those impacted.

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