That is the quote from one of our Venezuelan crabmeat suppliers this morning. With over half the plants around the Lake closed, production of fresh crab meat has almost ground to a halt. Lake Maracaibo is a huge brackish lake (75 miles wide and 130 miles long) with an outlet to the ocean. The primary crabbing method is “trotlining.” It is a long line (3000 feet) that lies on the bottom (buoys at each end) with baits every 20 feet. Crabbers lay it out just before sunrise and go down the line all morning, dipping crabs as they come up the line. Trotlining for crabs can only be done in 25 feet of water or less. Essentially, Lake Maracaibo’s crabbers are only fishing a fraction of the lake’s surface area. So, when the supplier says there is “nothing in the lake”, what that means is there is nothing within 25 feet of the lake.
If they were to use crab pots instead of trotlines, they would double the area they fished because here in our Bay, crabbers regularly set pots in up to 50 feet of water. But because there is no enforcement of the law in Venezuela, crab pots were regularly stolen, hence the crabbers stopped using them.
There are still plenty of crabs in Lake Maracaibo, but with the heavy rains, the freshwater has pushed the crabs into deeper water. Eventually, they will return, but there is only one person who knows when. However, we are looking at the very real possibility of production declining to the point where pasteurized crabmeat will have to be substituted on a regular basis. Stay tuned.