The Crab Queen of Dulac, An Outspoken Love for Louisiana’s Seafood Community

by / Newsroom Ink on August 17, 2013
Trudy Luke is known for her outspoken style, constant motion and love for the Louisiana seafood community. Photo: Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News

Trudy Luke is known for her outspoken style, constant motion and love for the Louisiana seafood community. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink for Louisiana Seafood News

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Luke operates a 14-year old family business that buys and sells crabs and oysters, as well as sells soft shell crabs. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Trudy Luke will tell you!

She will tell you exactly what is on her mind, often whether you want to hear it or not.

Luke is the energetic owner of Luke’s Seafood in Dulac, one of the first to gain Authentic Louisiana Wild Seafood certification. She’s known for her outspoken style, constant motion and love for the Louisiana seafood community.

Sitting on “Shrimpers Row” halfway between Houma and the Terrebonne Basin, one of the two areas where more than half of Louisiana blue crabs are harvested, she operates a 14-year old family business that buys and sells crabs and oysters, as well as sells soft shell crabs.

seafood_cert_web1Before starting the Bayou Grand Caillou business, Luke worked at a number of jobs while her husband Timmy fished for crabs, shrimp and mullets. Today she operates the business that regularly has between 30 to 35 fishermen at her dock daily, while he continues to fish.

“We started with a 10 local fishermen who would supply us the crabs and oysters,” said the vibrant mother of four boys. “We just sort of blossomed from there. By the end of our first year we ended up with between 12-15 regular fishermen.”

A Family Business

Luke,  the associate chairperson on Crab Task Force and a member of Women to Women in Business, has grown her business with the help of her family.

“I have been working here all my life, ever since we opened up,” said Shane Luke, her second son, while sorting a load of blue crabs. “My first job was picking crabs, I was six at the time.”

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Shane can attest to the dangers of sorting crabs, as he tosses barehanded one after another into different boxes at the end of the table with co-worker Jose Morales. Eric Matherne empties crabs. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Shane can attest to the dangers of sorting crabs, as he tosses barehanded one after another into different boxes at the end of the table. “Crabs don’t even have to pinch you,” he said. “Their points are dangerous enough. I have sliced my hand open a couple of times. They can really hurt.”

He says his crab sorting days may be numbered however.

The thin 20-year old describes himself as someone that loves to work. Staying busy eight-hours a day is happiness for him.

“Crabs aren’t all that good this year,” he said while lying on the couch in his mom’s office waiting for the next boat to dock. “If the season picks up I might like to stay in the business, but if it stays slow like this I rather go to college or get a job offshore.”

Crab Season a “Bust”

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The slow crab season has even given the family dog more time to relax. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

From Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf, this year’s Louisiana blue crab season has been a bust.

No one is sure exactly why the catch is extraordinarily bad, but Trudy Luke is not afraid to give her opinion.

According to the Chauvin native, crabs, like residents of southern Louisiana, know how to survive hurricanes, but the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has left the crab survival verdict up in the air.

“You know when a hurricane is coming. You pack up everything you want and take it to safety. When the storm is over you come back, clean up, pick up the pieces, sanitize and get back to work where you left off,” said Luke sitting behind her office desk.

“The oil spill, it has been a completely different story. We are getting the blunt of the blow three years after the event, and who is to know if there are even further damages. It’s just going downhill fast.”

Timmy Luke (right) works on a motor to one of his five boats while friends give moral support. Photo: Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News

Andi Luke (left) and his father Timmy work prepare to lay crab traps. Photo: Luke Family Archives

Having trouble answering how many pounds of crabs she is currently processing, she said she’s lucky to ship 5,000 a day during what should be the most productive time of the crabbing season.

“That a tough question. Right now the crabs just aren’t out there,” she said. “If they were to come back, on a good day we could process close to 12,000 pounds, even more maybe.”

Getting the Next Generation Interested

She questions whether any of her sons will want to continue in the seafood business.

“Our oldest son Dustan’s dream has always been to own a boat. He will surely follow in his fathers footsteps and keep the family shrimping legacy going,” said the bayou born mother. “Andi, our third son, was introduced into oystering this year and has been working a crab boat by himself. I just am not sure if he will stay in the fishing, he has been talking about going back to college.”

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Known for having a sweet flavor and meaty texture, blue crabs are highly sought after, especially on the east coast. Luke checks the buster crabs in her tanks for shedding. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

As for her 16-year son old Tate, “My little one is just too early to tell.”

With seven boats, a processing dock, a host of crab traps, as well as oyster and mullets gear; she does have some hope that they will stay in the family business.

“Our kids have a better chance of continuing in the business because, unlike my husband when he started, they have all the equipment needed to be successful. They have no excuse not to go to work,” she explained.

“To get our kids, my kids, your kids interested in remaining in the seafood industry we need to get them more involved, let them participate in the business. If we don’t, there is a lot that has been handed down from generation to generation that will be lost.”

Known for having a sweet flavor and meaty texture, blue crabs are highly sought after, especially on the east coast. A majority of her crabs end up on eastern plates.

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When a crab start to bust, or shed their shell, they pretty much double in size  Luke holds a soft-shell crab(top) along with its shell.. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“I sell to supermarket chains in Baltimore, as well as restaurants from Alabama to Boston,” said Luke about her customers. “The Maryland blue crab and crab cake mainly comes from Louisiana waters, along with the soft shell crabs they serve.”

For Luke soft shell crabs were a growing part of her business; that is until this year.

“We buy crabs in the buster state, what they call red-liners,” she explained about her soft shell operation. “We put the males in one tank and females in another. When they start to burst, or shed their shell, they pretty much double in size. We let them stretch and firm up slightly then pack them up and freeze them.”

According to the Dulac crab queen, the Atlanta market is buying every soft shell she can harvest – which hasn’t been that many.

Her Fishermen Family

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The one positive for this year’s Louisiana crab harvest has been price, it has been beneficial for fishermen. Jose Morales puts the finishing touches on a load to be shipped. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The one positive for this year’s Louisiana crab harvest has been price. Unlike shrimp or crawfish, crab prices are more constant, and this year they have remained constantly high.

“The high prices have been beneficial for fishermen, especially since their catch rates have been so low,” she said about the fishermen she considers par of her family. “They don’t have to go out and catch a whole lot to have a nice catch and turn a small profit. I am so glad to see them making a few dollars.”

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In her office, Luke constantly goes out of her way to help her “family”. This year she renewed six licenses online for fishermen that did not have Internet access. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

She is a woman who strongly believes in loyalty.

Some docks will jump the price paid to fishermen by a nickel or so just to pull in boats. Fishermen that follow the price are called “dock jumpers”. She is not worried about her fishing “family” taking part in the questionable practice; considering her fishermen the “best in the world”.

Luke constantly goes out of her way to help her “family”. This year she renewed six licenses online for fishermen that did not have Internet access saying, “it was easier and more convenient, and I trusted them to pay back the fees I fronted for them.”

“You got to give people a chance, especially those who have been loyal to your business,” she added.

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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