Brennan, others rely on Terrebonne Parish

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON --  Lance Nacio, owner of Anna Marie Shrimp, left, and Brandon Muetzel, executive chef at Palace Cafe, step off Nacio's shrimp boat the Anna Marie, following a tour on Tuesday in Montegut.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Lance Nacio, owner of Anna Marie Shrimp, left, and Brandon Muetzel, executive chef at Palace Cafe, step off Nacio's shrimp boat the Anna Marie, following a tour on Tuesday in Montegut.

The first stop for Dickie Brennan and his chef entourage was Luke Seafood in Dulac, a 15-year-old family business that buys and sells oysters and hard- and soft-shell crabs.

Trudy Luke’s specialty is the crab.

“This is my baby-sitting gig,” she said. “We buy crabs in the buster state when there’s a visible red line, when they’re ready to molt. We put the males and females in separate tanks, and I have to check on them about every two hours, day and night.”

When the crabs begin to burst (shed their shells), they double in size. Luke lets them stretch and firm up before they are packed and chilled for shipment to area restaurants or frozen and shipped farther away. Seventy percent of the crabs being sold as Maryland blue crabs are from Louisiana.

“For their boils, they’ll buy all of the No. 1 select Louisiana males they can get their hands,” Luke said.

Last year Blue Water Shrimp, a harvesting and processing facility on nearby Grand Caillou Road, processed an estimated 2 million pounds of select Louisiana shrimp for area restaurants, said Kim Chauvin, who owns and operates the facility. By volume, she said, Terrebonne Parish produces the most shrimp in Louisiana.

Working out of Montegut, Lance Nacio’s primary skimmer trawler, the Anna Marie, after which he named his company, is loaded with two 18-ton compressors that run onboard plate freezers set to 45 below zero, essentially making the boat a mobile processing plant.

Nets are hauled aboard, shrimp are mechanically graded and immediately chilled in 34-degree seawater. They are then weighed, bagged, boxed and quick-frozen, often while alive, in the 45-below-zero deck freezer.

Nacio uses turtle-excluder devices to minimize undesirable by-catch but does keep some of his unintentional haul.

It’s this by-catch that is of the greatest interest to novelty-seekers like Brennan and his chefs: tripletail, flounder, channel mullet, whiting, soft-shell shrimp, squid and what the Cajun fishermen call “seabobs,” small shrimp, each with six whiskers and two rows of rich roe lining their backs — the very species Brennan was hoping to find for his restaurants.