Blue crab (Callinectes Sapidus)
Bycatch: Finfish species such as sheepshead, stingray, speckled trout, hardhead catfish, Atlantic croaker, black drum, gafftopsail catfish, striped mullet and southern kingfish have been recorded as bycatch in crab traps. Diamondback terrapins have also been recorded as bycatch of crab traps.
The range of the blue crab is from Nova Scotia to Northern Argentina, including Bermuda and the Antilles. It can be found throughout the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico states, and near the coast. In Louisiana, blue crabs can be found in all of the major bays and estuaries.
Female blue crabs spawn in the higher salinity, oceanic waters near the coastal barrier islands or in the passes of the bays. The fertile eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae, enter the estuary through tidal movements and currents and undergo a series of molts to become a juvenile blue crab. Most male crabs will not leave the estuary, which is an important habitat providing foraging areas and protection from predators. After mating, the females can store sperm for an extended period of time for multiple spawning events.
Callinectes sapidus, the scientific name for the blue crab, means “beautiful swimmer”. The carapace, or shell, has points on each side and can be olive green to muddy brown. It has five pairs of legs, including a pair of pinching claws, three pairs of walking legs and a pair of swimming legs, shaped liked paddles.
Up until 1969, crabs were harvested using trawls, handlines, trotlines and nets. The invention of the crab trap increased harvest and increased the number of commercial fishing licenses in Louisiana. Traps are currently used by almost all commercial crab fishermen, generally baited with menhaden, shad and catfish remains.
Traps can be lost or abandoned due to storms, boat traffic, float line damage, and other reasons. Abandoned traps are called “ghost” traps. Fish and other animals can enter the trap with no means of escape. Louisiana has a program to retrieve ghost traps annually to help minimize any type of continuing damage.
All commercial crab fishermen must have a commercial fishing license and a gear license. All traps are required to have at least 2 escape rings (except in Lake Pontchartrain). The size limit for commercially harvested blue crab is 5 inches, measured by the carapace width from point to point. Egg-bearing crabs are not allowed to be harvested. There is no daily limit. For more information: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/regulations