Legal Sea Foods President Roger Berkowitz said, "One of the things we can do, that perhaps we have not done enough of, is bring seafood from Louisiana to our restaurants up north."
Berkowitz was recently in New Orleans for an annual Legal leadership conference. A well-respected, family-owned-and-operated company, headquartered in Boston, Legal has 32 restaurants on the East Coast. In keeping with their community mindedness, Legal brought teams of volunteers to Louisiana ready for hurricane recovery work.
One of the teams made their way to St. Bernard, historically a very strong fishing parish, to assist Lisa and Wayne Ledet construct a new dockside softshell crab shedding operation.
Thirteen years ago Lisa Ledet inherited her mother's soft shell crab business. She married a crabber, Wayne Ledet. And life was good on Bayou Loutre in St. Bernard Parish.
On Aug. 29, 2005, a 27-foot wall of water engulfed all of that and unrolled it out into the marsh somewhere, along with just about every other crab shedding facility.
But thanks to the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, the Ledet's and nine other crabbing families are now readying themselves for the 2007 Spring Softshell Crab Season.
LSU is contributing tools, lumber, custom built crab shedding boxes with Legal Sea Foods providing the volunteer labor to help rebuild the Ledet's dock.
Mark Schexnayder, of the LSU Ag Center, said, "Commercial crabbers depend on these shedding operations to make extra money off of what they catch. They can put that toward their recovery: fix their motors, fix their homes. It's very important."
While the crabbers may get a few dollars for a dozen hard crabs, they can make $35 to $40 per dozen on softshell crabs. New Orleans restaurants seek out these delicacies.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board partnered with LSU to facilitate rebuilding the Ledet's business. Chairman of the Board Harlon Pearce said, "The Ledet's and other mom and pop businesses are the core of the seafood industry here in Louisiana. They are where we came from. They made us who we are. Even today, virtually all of the fishing boats are family owned and operated."
It is estimated that 50 percent of the state's 2,500 crabbers may be back at work on the water. Some 150 of those crabbers once had softshell crab operations.
Mark Martineau sawed and drilled with 15 other Legal Sea Foods volunteers to build a system of fiberglass trays and pvc pipes for holding crabs as they shed. He exclaimed, "To get down here this far after the storm and to see the devastation still -- it shakes the soul."
"Katrina is not done," said volunteer Michael Melore. "There is still a strong need for help from anybody who is able to contribute."
Umbrellamarket.org directed a $15,000 Kellogg Foundation grant to fund LSU's project to rebuild and retool Louisiana crabbing.
For more information on volunteer opportunities visit www.wecare.org.
For more information, contact Mark Schexnayder at 504-838-1170.