For Whitney Curole of Des Allemands, being a fisherman is an “always” kind of thing — he’s been a crabber since his teenage years, following in the footsteps of his father, and that passion for fishing runs throughout his entire family.
But all of that experience nonetheless doesn’t mean it’s not hard sometimes.
This year was the first in which the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries placed restrictions on blue crab harvest in an effort to restore the blue crab’s population in state waters. Commercial blue crab harvest was banned for a full 30 days from February to March.
A similar restriction is planned for 2018 and 2019, though the ban was altered: the commercial fishing of specifically female blue crabs across the Louisiana coast will be banned for two months of each year, with the timing pushed back to run from March 1 through April.
“I fought against (the initial one-month ban),” said Curole, who catches crabs and ships them all over the country and who retails crabs himself through his family business in Donaldsonville. “When it closed, there were no crabs for our customers and it also started a process where people we usually ship to started getting crabs from guys in Texas and Georgia. They had to buy from there for a month, and since they know we have a season closure for the next two years, they weren’t going to stop buying from these guys and come back to us.”
Moreover, Curole said the effect of effectively shutting down crabbing for a month also affected market pricing. With the supply of harvested crabs shorter locally, prices had to climb, in kind.
“It opened the bidding to other states,” Curole said. The ban never chased Curole from the water, though. On a typical day during crab season, he’d rise at 2 a.m. and travel up to two hours to his destination near the water.
He’ll gas up his boat, determine the best spot for catching and set up his traps or collect from his traps that are there already, and ultimately sell the crabs to the market.“Then you take your shower and get ready for the next day,” he said.
But with the ban this year, instead of catching crabs, Curole and those taking the water with him instead focused on crawfish and fish. They found success there, but even then, it came at a cost.
“We caught a lot of these big fish for 12 days,” he said. “We brought them to a place where a lot of older fishers from Des Allemands were bringing theirs … we brought so many, the price went down for the older guys. It hurt them, when we would have been crabbing.
“Ultimately, these laws are hurting everyone. I understand what they’re trying to do … trying to save the crabs. But (as they’re trying to find a solution), they’re experimenting with people’s livelihoods.”
Don’t confuse Curole with someone looking for sympathy, though. He’s been in business for 16 years and has enough knowledge to adapt and make things work. But for many, he says, the 30-day ban hurt in a major way.
“There’s no money coming in for a lot of guys. My son, during the closing, had to leave me and work elsewhere,” Curole said. “My own son. And people don’t realize, it takes close to a week to pick up all these traps and bring them back to the house. When the season opens, it takes five to seven days to even put them back out there. It’s almost like a month-and-a-half you’re sidelined.”
Especially locally, that can hit hard.
“We were born and raised in a fishing community,” Curole said. “My dad was a fisherman. You plan on being a fisherman. They can do whatever they want, but nobody’s going to get another job or going to school to do something else. This is who we are.”
And while Curole sympathizes with the LDWF’s motive, he simply disagrees with the idea of what result it will bring.
“There are so many restrictions on fishing as it is, and now the fish are overpopulated …. They’re sucking the baby crabs up like vacuum cleaners,” Curole said. “Until something’s done about these fish, you won’t see the crab population get back to where it was.”