Get 'em while they're cold: Restaurants stock up on crab as trap ban begins

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The head of a state task force on crabs is defending an unprecedented ban on crab traps that has some restaurants scrambling for alternatives.

That ban kicks in today, causing some to wonder if it was really necessary.

"It's gonna be hard to get this to stretch," said restaurant owner Joe Luscy.

Some restaurants like Deanie's on Hayne have stocked freezers with a product they - up to this point - always served fresh.

"We have, we bought a lot of crabs and crab meat before the ban went into effect," said Luscy.

But others are adjusting menus, substituting crawfish instead of crab.

"I think it's gonna put a lot of people out of business," said Luscy.

The man who heads the task force that voted for the crab trap ban says it had to be done.

"We crossed the line, which doesn't mean we are over fished, but that's a line we drew where we said we had to look at options," said Pete Gerica, with the state crab task force.

There are other changes to help bolster crab populations.

"That's allow the small crabs to escape," said Gerica.

Crabbers are now required to have holes in their traps to allow juvenile crabs smaller than 5 inches to go free.

"You can also not take any maiden crabs except for shedding," said Gerica.

The shutdown will also allow the state to remove scores of abandoned traps that often foul fishermen's gear, while killing trapped crabs that never get collected.

"There are hundreds," said Gerica.

Lake Pontchartrain is considered a near-perfect crab fishery. Normally there are hundreds of Styrofoam floats on top of crab traps sitting out there. Now there are none - a sure sign of a crab shutdown that has some wondering if other steps could've been taken.

"I'm sure they could have done something as opposed to a ban," said Luscy.

Some crabbers have more than 1,000 traps with no limits set.

"The legislature didn't want to do it because they thought it was too costly to the fishermen," said Gerica.

Many won't mind looking for substitutes.

"I prefer crawfish over crabs. It's more fun to eat," said customer Charles Burd.

The ban on crab traps, remains in place until March 22.

The state has now done like other states, and imposed fines of up to $350 and jail terms of up to 60 days for those possessing immature female crabs.
The crabbing ban does not apply to recreational crabbers who use small nets or string to bring in their catch.

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