The Louisiana crab industry is working on rallying support among Southern states, including Virginia, to get the federal government to slap duties on imports from Venezuela and other nations. The effort, in its early stages, is the latest move by a Louisiana seafood industry to get relief from imports.

The crawfish industry has already won an antidumping case against Chinese crawfish tail meat and shrimpers are awaiting a ruling on whether duties should be imposed on imports from six Asian and South American countries.

Crabbers, buoyed by what other fishermen and processors have done, want to file an antidumping petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The crab industry needs that protection more than any of these other industries,” said Jim Rich of the Louisiana Crab Task Force, a government body that oversees the state industry.

To win duties, the industry would need to prove that crab meat is being dumped on the U.S. market at below fair market prices. In 2000, the crab industry failed to win duties.

Rich said the Louisiana industry is trying to rally support for a petition from crabbers and processing plants in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

The initiative mirrors that one put together by shrimpers from eight Southern states who banded together to form the Southern Shrimp Alliance.
Rich said Venezuela would be one of the main targets, but he added that the petition could be filed against several countries.

“Economically, the No. 1 issue they’re facing is imports, that’s really hindering the price of processed crab meat,” said Vince Guillory, a marine biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The Louisiana blue crab industry, valued at about $90 million, is one of the state's largest seafood sectors.

Guillory said there are about 2,200 crab fishermen and about a dozen processing plants that deal in crab in Louisiana. But in the last decade, quite a few processors have gone out of business, in part because of imports, Guillory said.

Rich said Venezuela produces crab meat for between $4 and $5 a pound less than American processors can.

“More and more countries have developed their crab industries and, looking at value-added processing, it has led to increased exports to the U.S.,” said Walter Keithley, an associate professor at LSU's Coastal Fisheries Institute.

He said that the state’s crab harvesters have not suffered as much from imports because of a healthy market in live crabs. “The harvesters are somewhat protected in that the Chesapeake Bay production has been down in the past couple of years,” he said.