Where Y’Eat: A Pause for the Claws As Louisiana Crabs Get a Break

Mar 2, 2017

People in Louisiana are accustomed to finding delicious local crab everywhere – from fine dining restaurants to neighborhood joints to family affair seafood boils. But right now, Louisiana is finding its crab somewhere unexpected – and that’s off limits.

The state is in the midst of a first-of-its-kind closure of its blue crab fishery. It started just before Mardi Gras and continues through late March.

The closure is a regulatory move, one aimed at giving fledging crabs in the marsh a respite and a running start, and one intended to encourage a more robust crab population when the closure ends.

But for now, Lent is rolling, seafood boils are roiling, seafood platters are being stacked high, but the crab traps that normally supply them all along the Louisiana coast are out of commission.    

To be clear, this does not mean you can’t find crab on menus or in markets. Crab harvested elsewhere is still available. But a statewide shutdown of the Louisiana crab fishery is new, and people from the fishing dock to the dining room have been bracing for its impact and closely watching for its results.

The reason for the closure gets to the long term health of the state’s crab fishery. State agencies have seen warning signs of over fishing. So officials shut down crab fishing for 30 days this year, and they plan to do it again in 2018 and 2019.

Louisiana historically produces a lot of blue crab. How much? The annual harvest is somewhere in the neighborhood of 42 million pounds. To put that in perspective, one-quarter of all crabs produced in the United States come from Louisiana’s beautifully brackish estuary coastline, that nursery for so many things that taste so good. 

   So, we’re used to having crab, and lots of it, even during what passes for a Louisiana winter these days. A closure represents a big change. But there may be a benefit from the crab fishing shutdown that goes beyond bolstering the resource in the wild. It could just sharpen the appreciation for Louisiana crab when we see it again on the plate, or the tray.

Being told that something you’re accustomed to having all the time is now out of bounds, even for a few weeks, well, it has that effect. The mind starts to wander, cravings start to concentrate. Just writing about crabs recently for this story, I started envision fat, succulent crabmeat salads just lightly peppered and barely dressed, or a loosely bound crab cake with lacy, sizzled edges, or a big whole fried soft shell crab with all its legs and claws reaching out like a teddy bear looking for a hug.

Remember, I told myself, it’s crawfish season. Think about oysters, oysters are at their prime. There’s plenty to eat. But won’t it be great when the closure is done, the traps are back to work and the floodgates of a local harvest are back open? That’s the beauty of living in a place where the seasons bring pleasures that change and, if we take care of them, pleasures that return.

So don’t worry, Louisiana seafood lovers. Your relationship with crabs isn’t on the rocks. You’re just on a break, a little pause for the claws.