Crab catches improve with Lake Pontchartrain on the mend

Crab Traps Return to Lake Pontchartrain

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - After months of scarcity, it looks like crabs are making a comeback in Lake Pontchartrain.

But, it might take a while for the damage to heal completely.

Merlin Schaefer is one of the busiest crabbers in the region and says his secret is simple -- stay mobile.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to fish them where you gotta go,” Schaefer said.

Shaefer is currently moving dozens of crab traps from Barataria Bay back into Lake Pontchartrain after a six-month hiatus.

That’s because of two openings of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, prompting an influx of nutrient-laden freshwater that scared away thousands of crabs.

“I had to go down to Lafitte and get some of my traps, and I’m getting these, and going back into the lake,” Schaefer said.

Now the spillway is closed and crab traps hanging from beneath white buoy’s are returning to the lake, thanks to rising salinity levels, according to John Lopez, of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

“Salinities here, are about three [parts per thousand], and a normal condition should be about three to four,” Lopez said.

And better yet, the algae blooms that prompted warnings from the state health department have largely disappeared.

“We are not seeing algae, even when we saw blooms, they were localized,” Lopez said.

Though the lake is making a comeback, there are still fishermen and crabbers out there who are hurting, and there’s an effort afoot to try and provide them some relief.

St. Bernard leaders will head to Washington again next month to try and get passage of a fisherman relief bill, to assist crabbers and those who harvest oysters from beds that may not come back.

“We did see mortality of the oyster beds, and that will take a couple of years to recover, assuming we don’t have a large freshwater event,” Lopez said.

But, for crabbers, there could be a nice bounce back.

“After it settles back down, and it gets back to normal, you get a good comeback with crabs,” Schaefer said.

“The nutrients stimulate productivity, and algae is at the base of the food chain, clams eat algae, crabs eat the clams, and everything eats the crabs,” Lopez said.

And that bounce back should last until cold weathers sets in.

Though salinity levels are returning back to normal in Lake Pontchartrain, Lopez said they’re only half of what they were 10 years ago. He said that’s because the closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has cut the flow of salty gulf water into the lake.

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