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Catch Crabs, Earn Cash Rewards

Kevin Savoie - Sunday, May 01, 2016

April 20, 2016

By Todd Masson

Crabbing in Louisiana's waters will not only provide you and your friends with a tasty meal, it could also put a little cash in your wallet. Nicholls State University is on a quest to learn more about the health and habits of the state's blue-crab population, and will be rewarding recreational and commercial crabbers who help in that endeavor.

Over the next two years, researchers at the school will tag and release as many as 15,000 female blue crabs in Louisiana waters and 30,000 Gulf-wide. The tags will appear on the backs of the crustaceans, and will be held in place by a wire that stretches from point to point.

Nicholls University tagged crabCrabbers who catch the tagged crabs and report the requested information will receive a check for $5 or $50, as well as information about where and when the crab was tagged.

Zachary Darnell, assistant professor at Nicholls' Department of Biological Sciences, said the project is the largest to his knowledge ever conducted in Louisiana waters.

"Blue crabs support a tremendously valuable fishery in Louisiana, but information on their movements and migration is lacking," he said. "We're mostly interested in how female crabs are moving through the estuaries and coastal waters of Louisiana -- when they're migrating, why they're migrating.

"We know that after the females mature and mate, they tend to stick in one area to feed and build up their energy stores, and then once they get ready to produce an egg mass, they start migrating down toward the coast, toward higher-salinity water, where they spawn. The eggs and larvae need that higher salinity."

Darnell said crabs migrate not by crawling or swimming, but by rising up in the water column and riding the falling tides. When the water turns around and begins to rise, the crabs simply move to the bottom and hold on until the tide starts to fall again.

"That saves them a lot of energy," he said.

In Louisiana, that migration seems to be a protracted affair, Darnell said.

"We know that up in the Chesapeake Bay, the vast majority of all females tend to migrate in the fall, fairly tightly clustered around the same time, but down here, it's probably much more spread out," he said.

10 fascinating blue crab facts

Here are some things you may not know about Louisiana's favorite crustacean.

The tags, Darnell said, should stay on the crabs throughout their lives.

"A lot of people ask, 'What about when they molt? Won't you lose the tags?' But once the females reach maturity, they really don't molt again after that," he said.

Researchers began tagging a couple of weeks ago, and to date, have tagged about 400 crabs, Darnell said. That number will climb rapidly throughout the spring and summer, he said.

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Todd Masson can be reached at tmasson@nola.com or 504.232.3054. 


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