As the holiday season comes to a close and the hustle and bustle of daily life resumes, one vital $64,000 element remains missing from the equation: blue crabs.
These crustaceans have seemingly disappeared from a large portion of Lake Maracaibo, leaving local plants struggling for raw materials and prices skyrocketing. But where have these blue crabs gone? And why have they vanished?
These questions remain a mystery, even in the Chesapeake Bay, known for its unpredictable blue crab population. However, several credible theories have emerged.
First, it’s important to note that even in Venezuela, located just north of the equator, the winter season still impacts the blue crab population. In Maracaibo, daytime temperatures average around 98-100 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the year. However, starting in late November, temperatures drop into the 80s, cooling the water 3-5 degrees. This triggers the crabs to move to deeper waters and even bury themselves in the mud for a period of time.
The primary fishing method in Lake Maracaibo is using “trot lines” instead of pots, which are only effective up to about 20 feet of depth. As the weather cools, the crabs head out to much deeper waters (35-60 feet), leaving the trot liners unable to catch them.
Another contributing factor is the boats used for crabbing on the lake. Due to the high cost of gasoline ($8/gal), the boats used now are much smaller than pre-pandemic, many being less than 20-foot dinghies with small outboards on the back, capable of fishing only 2 miles or less from shore. When you consider that Lake Maracaibo is 130 miles long and 75 miles wide, it’s clear that only a fraction of the lake is being fished for crabs.
However, there is still hope for Venezuelan blue crabmeat pricing. The crab catch is expected to increase dramatically, resulting in a corresponding drop in meat prices, in mid to late February as springtime temperatures return to the lake.
So, hold tight; these delicious crustaceans will be a value before you know it.