NEW ORLEANS -- One of the dishes people are getting at the Jazz Fest is Louisiana crab. But everyone along that food chain, from the fisherman to the suppliers to the restaurants, are saying crabs are hard to come by.
It's slim pickings at a local seafood shop for Louisiana blue crabs. Suppliers who usually get two dozen crabs per trap got only one crab in every two traps.
And it looks like they've been on a crash diet, little fat or meat.
"It costs me $43 a dozen for these crabs, live. My cost after I graded them and sold them, I got back $24 because they were skinny and I sold the big crab as a small crab," said Henry Poinot, president of Big Fisherman Seafood on Magazine Street.
Poinot used to be a commercial fisherman and he says the cooler weather we've been enjoying for our spring festivals is not for the crabs.
"The water's still cold. Last week it was in the 40s again, so the lake has warmed up, but it hasn't warmed up quite enough. When it's cold, they just bury in the mud and they just, their heart rate slows down and they just live off their body fat," Poinot explained.
At Galatoire's restaurant in the French Quarter, the staff is getting ready for the dinner crowd. And you can't do Galatoire's without doing crab meat.
"Crabmeat Maison, Crabmeat Yvonne, crabmeat everywhere," said Michael Sichel, the executive chef of Galatoire's Restaurant on Bourbon Street. "You have no idea. We go through almost 500 pounds of crabmeat a week here."
The chef says not only is the supply down, but the demand is up. Galatoire's has been busy, non-stop since the Super Bowl, with the festivals, conventions and sporting events.
He agrees that the cold weather is the reason they are struggling to meet the demand.
"We're doing it. We're surviving. We haven't run out of crabmeat yet, but it hasn't been easy this year," Sichel added.
And of course in the free market, supply and demand determine prices. So expect to pay more now and possibly in the future.
"The prices of the equipment, the traps, the bait, the fuel, my crab fisherman, during prime time, spends $400 a day on bait, on fish to put in his traps. Your customers come in and they want to know why crabs are $40, $50 a dozen," said Poinot.
He says as the waters warm and the soft shells harden, they will fatten up. Then the long-term picture will be clear.
"I think it's going to be about another three or four weeks, and we'll know what the season's going to be like. It could be a bad season, but it's still, you know, the water's still cold and you can't determine that yet. " Poinot predicted.
According to published reports, scientists are not ruling out the BP oil spill and the fresh-water diversion programs as a result of that, three years ago, as another possible cause contributing to the scarce amount of crabs.