Doug Mouton / Northshore Bureau Chief
ST. TAMMANY, La. -- As fresh water moves from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway towards Lake Pontchartrain, crabbers worry it may push crabs out of the lake.
"It's a function of how many bays they open, and then, how long they're open," Gary Bauer said. Bauer owns Pontchartrain Blue Crabs, one of the south's largest crab operations, and is a member of the Louisiana Seafood and Promotion Board.
"In some respects, a spillway opening, a lot of fresh water entering the system in the early part of the year, is generally good for the crab population," Bauer said.
Generally good, according to Bauer, as long as it's not too much.
"If they open every bay, and they leave it open for two to three months," Bauer added, "it would kind of wash out much of my summer production."
For now, the Army Corps of Engineers does not expect to keep the spillway open that long.
Summer production is just getting started, which is why the timing of the spillway opening worries many crabbers. Summer is peak time for crabs, and crabbers are having to deal with the possibility of crabs moving out of Lake Pontchartrain.
"With all the fresh water intrusion coming in, it's actually going to push the crabs further and further out," said crabber Ryan Sander. "And really, I don't have a boat big enough to go on the outside, so, I'm kind of stuck to the lake."
Regardless of how much fresh water enters Lake Pontchartrain, a lack of salinity won't kill crab populations, according to Bauer.
"They'll relocate," Bauer said. "They won't sit here and die. If the water gets too fresh, the crabs that are in Lake Pontchartrain right now, when they feel the water getting to fresh, they're going to swim away from it. They're going to escape from it."
Even though they're not crazy about the possibility of a lake without crabs, crabbers we talked to understand why the open of the spillway had to be done.
Somebody's going to get hurt, no matter what," Sander said. "We'll try to make a living someway or somehow. We always have."