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Isaac hits Louisiana crabbers hard

Louisiana crab fishers took a big hit from Hurricane Isaac, according to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Louisiana crab fishers took a big hit from Hurricane Isaac, according to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

Board member Gary Bauer, who runs a crab processing business in Slidell, said sunken boats, damaged docks and a lack of electricity and ice are among the problems crabbers face. An assessment Friday by the promotion board said crab harvests suffered significant disruption due to Isaac. Disruption for shrimp and finfish was described as moderate while oyster production will be limited until October.

Dollar estimates of losses weren't available but the assessment noted that parishes where a federal disaster has been declared include areas where the dockside values of commercial fishing is about 75 percent of the state total of nearly $320 million.

Bauer said his business was shut down for days by the storm, and not just because of power outages. The facility usually processes more than 18,000 crabs a day this time of year, he said. But crabbers have only been able to provide him 6,000 pounds over the last 12 days. When harvests will pick up again was uncertain.

"Nobody's going back to work because it's physically impossible," Bauer said.

"They can't drive down Highway 23 to go put their traps back out," he said, referring to a swamped road in Plaquemines Parish. "They can't go launch their boats in Delacroix because there's no infrastructure."

Tino Mones, a seafood processor in the Delacroix community in St. Bernard Parish, said in a telephone interview Friday that one problem is early forecasts that didn't have Louisiana in Hurricane Isaac's path, and the fact that the storm was expected to be relatively weak. Mones said some crabbers left traps in the water and now can't find them. He said one of the crabbers he deals with had 400 traps in the water. So far he's recovered 30.

"I lost all my freezers, all my refrigerated containers," Mones said. He said he will reopen but he's thinking about scaling back. He also plans to put as much of his equipment as he can on wheels so it can be moved when storms approach. The business was wiped out by Katrina seven years ago, he said, and suffered when waters were closed and fishermen were employed to help with the cleanup following the 2010 BP oil spill.

"Every time I stand up I get knocked back down," he said.

Isaac hit Aug. 28 and raked the state with high winds and rain for more than two days, while its storm surge flooded low-lying areas. The storm struck as the state seafood industry was recovering from the oil spill. A small portion of Louisiana waters was closed to fishing this week because the storm churned up weathered gobs of BP oil.

Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, a state-backed industry panel that met Friday, said the industry supports the closure, a precautionary move aimed at making sure seafood on the market remains safe.

Smith said the industry continues to fight negative perceptions about Louisiana seafood since the spill. The board voted 9-2 Friday in favor of an $842,000 promotion agreement with the New Orleans Saints. It will include promotional signs and electronic message board promotions inside and outside the Superdome, ads in game day programs and promotion of Louisiana seafood to broadcasters and other media covering the games with an aim toward raising the profile of Louisiana seafood nationally.