HOUMA — Some local crab fishermen and buyers say they are concerned they could lose business during the 30-day ban on blue crab fishing that started Feb. 20 in Louisiana.

HOUMA — Some local crab fishermen and buyers say they are concerned they could lose business during the 30-day ban on blue crab fishing that started Feb. 20 in Louisiana.

Carla Ghere, owner of Carla Ghere’s crab shack in Houma, said she could lose some of her buyers from outside of Louisiana in the long run.

“People come down to my dock all the way from the bottom of Florida to buy my crabs,” said Ghere, who fishes, buys and sells crabs commercially. “I’ve got trucks that come from North Carolina and Alabama. They come down here to buy my crabs because they like my product.

“Now when they are cheaper over there and they don’t have to drive way out here, they aren’t gonna come down here, they’re going to buy it over there.”

But Louisiana fisheries experts say the temporary closure, a first statewide, is necessary to make sure blue crab populations remain sustainable.

Last year’s assessment by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries estimated the state’s blue crab population at 14.3 million pounds in 2015. The benchmark for “overfished” conditions is when the population falls below 17.1 million pounds.

Jeff Marx, a biologist and program manager with the agency, said the low number required the department to take action. The 30-day ban comes during what is historically a down time in the season, he said, so the interruption should be minimal.

Marine experts say the ban will give mature female crabs time to spawn and immature female crabs time to grow.

“You’ll see a better product,” Marx said. “In late February, early March, there’s what is called a ‘skinny’ crab, and with the closure, those crabs will have a chance to grow and get a better quality.”

Another goal, he said, is to make sure the number of blue crabs is high enough to remain profitable for Louisiana fishermen.

Don Authement, a crab trap manufacturer and owner of Kajun Crab Trap & Wire in Bourg, said he understands the need for the ban, but for it to work, it shouldn’t be just for Louisiana.

Since the ban, Authement said, the price for the big crabs, called No. 1s, has increased from about $2.50 to $4.50 in Louisiana.

“This could have only helped if they would’ve closed the whole Gulf Coast,” Authement said. “You don’t go to Texas and catch crabs and then come to Louisiana and sell them for twice the price. That’s why (crab fisherman) are mad.

“It’s like me going to the grocery store and buying a dozen tomatoes for $2 and coming back and selling it to you for $4. It’s the same thing. The fishermen get hit every time.”

Marx said a ban across the Gulf would have been hard to accomplish.

“We can ask another state; we can suggest it,” Marx said. “You’re crossing a lot of jurisdictions. We have to satisfy the sustainability certification that only Louisiana has.”

Louisiana’s oversight of its blue crab population over the years earned the department a “seal of sustainability” from the Marine Stewardship Council in 2012, the first and only crab fishery in the world to receive the designation.

The seal opened doors to large retailers such as Whole Foods and other national chains to sell Louisiana blue crabs but also comes with environmental stipulations. The council mandates that benchmarks be met for five years in monitoring the crab population, Louisiana Sea Grant says. It also requires the state to enact plans for how it will maintain or increase crab production without hurting the ecosystem and what to do if an overharvest is reached.

Sea Grant Fisheries Specialist Julie Lively said the decline is not isolated to Louisiana. Crab populations are down from the East Coast to Texas, and most of the causes are natural.

“Crab biology is driven by temperature and salinity; if salinity is low, predator fish don’t come in as close,” she said in a news release. “Also, more wet years will help populate crabs.”

“Regardless of the underlying cause,” Lively said, “we have reached the harvest limit and the state is managing the fishery so it can remain sustainable in the future for the fishermen of Louisiana.”

Blue crab moratoriums aren’t new to Louisiana, but they normally last about two weeks and apply only to specific regions, sometimes to clean up abandoned traps.

With this ban affecting the entire state for 30 days, Ghere said she is concerned crab fishermen will have trouble supporting their families.

“Some of these people don’t have an education to go look for another job,” she said. Some of these people quit school at age 12 or 14 to go help their parents on a boat. They don’t know anything else. Some of these people can't go and get another job.”

Ghere said she’s also concerned that crab ban occurred during Lent, a time when many Catholics across south Louisiana follow the church’s teaching to give up eating meat on Fridays.

“Lent is our busiest time of the year,” Ghere said. “People just want the seafood. Everywhere I go, they ask, ‘Where’s your crabs, you got some crabs?’ Even at the parades. No, I ain’t got no crabs.”