Live bait industry in Louisiana under stress after 4 hurricanes in 2 years – L’Observateur

NEW ORLEANS – A variety of factors over the past few years have intermingled, placing live bait shop owners under strain; frequent hurricanes, oil spills, dead zones and fish kills in the Gulf, as well as an ever-changing landscape of waterways due to freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River. Available and affordable live bait is crucial for the recreational fishing industry, but at the moment it is harder to find and even more expensive to purchase.

“Live bait is the bait for the people!” said Paul Begue, a Mandeville native with a background in aquaculture and keeping live aquatic animals. He and his business partner Dom Graves, a New Orleans native with a similar background who specializes in maintaining live aquatic systems, formed the Gulf Coast Live Bait Association to create a unified voice for a disorganized industry. The duo have been studying the live bait industry since Hurricane Ida dealt a near fatal blow to the state’s seafood complex and serve as industry liaisons with the Louisiana Fishing Community Recovery Coalition.

Begue and Graves have built a support network of over 25 members in the bait industry; including system operators, marina owners and bait haulers. After Hurricane Ida, Graves scoured the Bayou State, inspecting more than 40 sites and finding that about 80% were badly damaged or completely wiped out.

“The recreational fishing industry is a $2 billion industry in the state of Louisiana, covering everything possible; from the boat, to trailers, to gas sales and of course to live bait,” Begue explained. “Live Bait acts as an economic force multiplier; bring people to marinas who then also launch, buy fuel, ice, food, etc.

In the past, the importance of live bait has been overlooked for a number of reasons. About 40 operators across the state provide live bait to the recreational fishing community which includes guides, charter boats, speedboats and the regular Joe who fishes alone.

“‘Cajunuity’ inspired the live bait industry,” Begue. said. “It was very creative people who said put in a few tanks, pump some bayou water, flush it through the tanks and we can keep live bait.”

What these bait operators put in the tanks were thousands of shrimp, cocahoe minnows and croakes; all used for saltwater, or brackish water, recreational fishing.

“Shrimp is 90% of what is sold,” continued the baitfish expert. “At a cost of 35 cents each, live bait gives anglers a distinct advantage in catching fish. Bad anglers can actually become very good anglers in southern Louisiana using live bait.

Live bait has become a viable product that stores can store for up to 48 hours without loss or mortality. Begue says: “A dead shrimp is worth nothing, it has a very short shelf life. The bait must remain in the holding tanks for as little time as possible. Once one begins to die, others around him tend to expire as well.

Both aquatic life support experts work with bait shops to keep the product alive for longer periods of time. Ideally, a bait tank should be turned over every 24 hours, allowing for a daily delivery of fresh bait.

Dom Graves says weekends are the biggest days for bait shops. “From Thursday the shops start to get very busy and it’s important to have enough bait in the tanks for the anglers arriving.”

Bait shops tend to be spot businesses that buy 60-100 unit shrimp for their tanks. These small shrimp attract 14 to 15 inch speckled trout and 18 to 24 inch rockfish, fish that are too small for the commercial market. Availability is not only important to local anglers, but also the record number of out-of-state recreational anglers. Like the majority of Gulf States, Louisiana only allows shrimp originating from the Gulf of Mexico to be used as bait.

Bait shops either have their own dedicated bait boats to supply their tanks or use independent suppliers. Additionally, bait is also shipped by truck to many other locations along the coast.

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