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Blue crab bait could help industry

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE 8 News) – A new gelatin-like bait using shrimp waste could improve the way blue crabs are caught along the coast of Louisiana and add value to the state's shrimp processing industry.

Julie Anderson, a crustacean specialist with the LSU AgCenter, is working on a crab bait that could replace Atlantic menhaden, the current bait used.

The menhaden, also known as pogy, is shipped from the East Coast, Anderson said, but stocks are declining. The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission put a limit on how much menhaden can be caught. Anderson said this is driving up the price of Atlantic menhaden.

Menhaden also is caught in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is rarely used for bait.

"Gulf-caught menhaden is valuable as its own separate fishery," she said. "There are some fishermen that used to sell it as bait, but it is more valuable to use as Omega-3 oils – fish oils – that it is just not worthwhile to sell as bait."

Anderson worked on a project manufacturing baits at the University of Delaware. She was trying to find a replacement for horseshoe crabs used as bait in eel and whelk fishing.

She is applying the same techniques to develop a blue crab bait that can replace menhaden.

Anderson tried mixing commercial-grade gelatin with byproducts from oysters, shrimp and crabs – all things blue crabs eat. Tests showed that the crabs were most attracted to the baits with shrimp in them.

Anderson said about a third of a shrimp – such as the shell and the head – is waste, and shrimp processors typically have to pay to have the waste hauled away. Finding a use for the waste can cut down on costs while bringing in money.

"If we can create even just a very small value to this waste product, then some of those processors could make a little more money," she said.

The researcher is testing different amounts of shrimp and gelatin to make a bait that would first attract the crabs and also hold up in the water as well as be easy to store and handle.

"Preliminary fields work had very similar catches between normal menhaden and our bait," Anderson said.

She tested the baits in waters with varying salinity levels and found that in waters with high salinity, smaller predators, such as minnows and small crabs, will feed on the bait and break it down faster. This was not a problem in fresher water.

Anderson says it appears the manufactured bait may last longer in the water than menhaden. With longer-lasting bait, fishers wouldn't have to go out as often to check their traps, which would cut down on fuel costs.

Baits manufactured in Louisiana also decrease shipping costs. While menhaden bait is kept frozen, this manufactured bait may not need to be frozen. Anderson said it would likely be less costly than using menhaden.

"Even if it is just a few cents cheaper per bait, it would definitely add up over the year," she said.

Anderson has a graduate student working on the project during the next two years, and she hopes to have a product ready for the market at the end of that period.

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