NEW ORLEANS (WWL-TV)— There was not much good news for crab fishermen meeting Tuesday in St. Bernard Parish.
They claim freshwater intrusion in the saltwater marshes where they fish is having a devastating effect on their livelihood.
Louisiana Crab Task Force Chairman Pete Gerica, who fishes mostly the Lake Pontchartrain basin, opened the meeting with a dire prediction about this year’s harvest.
“I know everybody is having a rough go because of the spillway and it’s going to get worse,” Gerica said. “I don’t see it closing anytime soon. Much more water coming down the pike than I’ve ever seen.”
The Mississippi River is at historically high water levels. That, plus the two openings of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, have flooded the saltwater marshes with fresh water.
That’s had a dramatic impact on the crab population, which thrives in brackish water.
Crab fisherman George Jackson said there is very little salt left in the marsh and as a result, he’s not making any money.
“Normally, I’d be probably catching 25 to 30 boxes (of crabs per week), Jackson said. “Right now, I ain’t catching but three or four. It’s that bad.”
The Crab Task Force approved a resolution asking the federal government for some sort of financial assistance for fishermen impacted by this high water event.
“Everybody’s worried that they’re not going to be able to pay the bills,” Gerica said. “Right now, most people are working and you’re barely paying for the bait and the fuel.”
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McGinnis is also pushing for federal assistance. His parish has already declared a State of Emergency.
“We fully understand why we have to open the spillway to protect lives and property,” McGinnis said. “But, our fishermen, our farmers here in Southeast Louisiana need some relief also.”
McGinnis added all species of seafood is taking a hit right now. He said local oyster beds have been destroyed by the fresh water.
“Our oyster industry, we’re receiving reports now that 80 percent of their crop and their leases are dead,” McGinnis said. “It takes about three years or so fort that industry to come back.”
Peyton Cagle, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said as far as the crab population is concerned, he doesn’t expect any long-term damage because of the spillway openings.
But, fishermen don’t expect to rebound this year, especially with the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge now expected to open. That would divert water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya Basin through central Louisiana.
“It’s one of them years when everything collapses on you,” Gerica said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is now expected to begin opening the Morganza on June 9.
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